Global indifference to LGBTI crackdown

Over the rainbow: Fans flew the pride flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert, sparking a spate of arrests (Jamal Saidi, Reuters)

Over the rainbow: Fans flew the pride flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert, sparking a spate of arrests (Jamal Saidi, Reuters)

“Hysteria and panic” are sweeping through Egypt’s queer communities since the government’s arrests of those suspected of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and intersex (LGBTI) — but their pleas for support from the outside world have fallen on deaf ears.

This is according to a representative of the Alliance of Queer Egyptian Organisations.

The spate of arrests began after rainbow flags were waved at a rock concert by the Lebanese group Mashrou’ Leila on September 22 in support of the band’s openly gay lead singer, Hamed Sinno.

“People are hiding — especially those who attended the concert. They won’t gather in public spaces anymore, out of fear of being arrested,” says the representative, who, out of safety concerns, chose to be identified only as Noor.

Less than two months since the concert, 65 people have been arrested. Some of them have been subjected to forced anal testing to “prove” that they are gay.

A Human Rights Watch report, Dignity Debased: Forced Anal Examinations in Homosexuality Prosecutions, found that “law enforcement officials working in tandem with medical personnel, subject men and transgender women who are arrested on homosexuality-related charges to forced anal examinations, with the purported objective of finding ‘proof’ of homosexual conduct”.

“These examinations often involve doctors or other medical personnel forcibly inserting their fingers, and sometimes other objects, into the anus of the accused,” it noted.

The report found that these examinations were based on “long-discredited 19th-century science” and are in contravention of international law.

According toNoor, the first arrest was of a 19-year-old, a day after
the concert. Following “a speedy trial three days after his arrest”,
he was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment as well as six years probation.

“This means he will spend six years of his life in prison and another six years spent having to report to a police station daily and possibly being held overnight,” says Noor. “After 12 years, he will be 31 years old with criminal records —and no future.”

Although homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, Noor says there is “continued discrimination and social stigma, institutional homophobia and transphobia by media, religious and health institutions”.

The state uses obscure laws that criminalise “debauchery” and “sexual deviances” to target the queer community.

It is feared that the recent proposal of a law that would criminalise homosexual relationships, the advertising of homosexual parties or gatherings and the carrying of queer symbols or signs would exacerbate this.

“The proposed law could lead to the arrest of people who are simply wearing colourful dress or posting rainbow flags on Facebook,” Noor says.

Graeme Reid, director of Human Rights Watch’s International LGBTI programme, calls the recent crackdown “extreme by any standard”.

“But this is just the latest chapter in an ongoing campaign against LGBT people,” he adds. “Egyptian authorities have imprisoned over 300 men and transgender women since [President] Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power.”

Queer activists, who cannot discuss the draconian law with officials “because we will be subject to arrest and defamation”, are calling on the international community for support. But the call has largely fallen on deaf ears.

“We hoped for stronger and more effective reactions to the proposed law from the international community, but global reactions so far are unclear, slow and ineffective on the ground,” says Noor.

Mathias Wasik, a senior campaign manager for All Out, which initiated an online petition in response to the crackdown and proposed law, said that on November 6 the organisation had delivered more than 50 000 signatures to the Egyptian government.

“But we need many more people to sign and share the campaign to join the fight,” says Wasik.

Faced with the crackdown on their rights — and an inability to engage authorities — the LGBTI community has little choice but to seek support from the global community.

“We call on all human rights activists to address these inhumane violations and to fight this law to unite their efforts to raise the value of respect for human rights in Egypt,” he says.

Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian. To sign the petition click here.


The Other Foundation

Carl Collison

Carl Collison

Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian. He has contributed to a range of local and international publications, covering social justice issues as well as art and is committed to defending and advancing the human rights of the LGBTI community in Southern Africa. Read more from Carl Collison

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