26 men acquitted of ‘debauchery’ in Cairo bathhouse trial

Updated 12 January 2015

26 men acquitted of ‘debauchery’ in Cairo bathhouse trial

CAIRO: An Egyptian court on Monday acquitted 26 men accused of “debauchery” after their night-time arrest from a Cairo bathhouse for suspected homosexual activity, in a case which triggered international concern.
The men were arrested on December 7 in the raid on a hamam in the Azbakeya district of the capital, amid fears of a widening police crackdown on gays in Egypt.
The raid was filmed by a female television journalist, who days later aired its footage on the “The Hidden,” a weekly program shown on pro-regime private satellite channel Al-Qahira Wel Nas.
The footage showed the near naked men, covering their faces and wearing only towels, dragged out of the hammam and loaded onto police trucks.
“Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest), Long live justice,” chanted the defendants when the verdict was announced, an AFP correspondent reported from the court room.
“Long live justice and the police,” cheered the jubilant families of the defendants, some of who clashed with reporters and photographers before the hearing began.
The defendants, including the bathhouse owner and four employees, were brought handcuffed to the court room and made to stand in a metal cage guarded by two rifle-wielding policemen.
“The ruling proved our innocence and cleared the name of the hammam. I swear we did nothing wrong,” said Fathy Abdel Rahman, owner of the bathhouse.
“Finally, an Egyptian court issued a verdict in a case of this kind according to the law,” Ahmed Hossam, a defense lawyer, told AFP.
Egyptian law does not expressly ban homosexuality, but gay men have previously been arrested and charged with debauchery instead.
In the past, homosexuals in Egypt have been jailed on charges ranging from “scorning religion” to “sexual practices contrary to Islam.”

False reporting?
Relatives of the defendants kissed policemen present in the court as they expressed joy on hearing the verdict.
“Thanks to Allah, the truth is out ... my son was in the hammam with his friend to bath before his wedding. My son is a real man,” said Hanan, a mother of one of the defendants.
Relatives threatened to sue television presenter Mona Al-Iraqi who filmed the raid.
“It’s very obvious that Mona Al-Iraqi fabricated the case, it’s only right that the prosecution files a case against her for making a false report to the police,” said lawyer Hossam.
“This will be the best rehabilitation for the defendants,” he said.
“The case was fabricated and about to completely destroy 26 families. God revealed the truth,” said Sayed, a brother of one of the defendants.
Iraqi has said on her Facebook page that airing the footage was not aimed at targeting homosexuality, but was part of a “series uncovering male sex trafficking and the spread of AIDS in Egypt.”
Defense lawyer Islam Khalifah said there was no evidence to convict the defendants.
“There was the police officer’s story, and he is the only witness and the forensic report denied his version of the story,” he said.
The forensic report submitted to the court states that none of the defendants showed signs of regular homosexual activities.
Advocacy groups such as New York-based Human Rights Watch have condemned prosecutions of homosexuals in Egypt, and also condemned the controversial anal tests carried out on them.
“This is amazing and unprecedented in Egypt,” said Scott Long, a human rights activist who attended the trial, after the verdict was issued.
The verdict came weeks after a court in a separate case reduced the jail terms of eight men over an alleged gay wedding video that went viral on the Internet, slashing them to one year each from three years.
Their arrests in September were part of a series of highly publicized raids targeting suspected homosexuals in the deeply conservative Muslim country.

Family stayed in Syrian town during offensive as fighters ousted

Updated 10 min 2 sec ago

Family stayed in Syrian town during offensive as fighters ousted

  • A renewed push by Syrian regime and Russian forces to take the area has seen heavy strikes and advances this week in the south of Idlib province

KHAN SHEIKHOUN: Russia-backed Syrian regime forces found Abu Abdo and family this week in Khan Sheikhoun, a town which almost all other residents had fled during shelling in an offensive to take the area from opposition fighters.

“The last month was very bad. We couldn’t stand by the door because of the shelling ... We couldn’t go anywhere,” 55-year-old Abu Abdo told Reuters.

He said his was one of only around three families that stayed in the town through the offensive while all other civilians fled north, away from the shelling.

“When the army came they opened the door of the house and entered, thinking no one was here. But when they saw us they were very respectful and asked us what we needed,” he said from his house which had a couple of shell holes in the walls.

Khan Sheikhoun was one of the towns lost early in the eight-year-old war to opposition fighters opposed to the rule of Syria’s Bashar Assad. On Friday the Syrian forces said they had taken it back, along with a handful of other settlements.

“The fighters ran away a day before the army entered. There was a huge number of fighters here,” Abu Abdo said, referring to the opposition.

A renewed push by Syrian regime and Russian forces to take the area has seen heavy strikes and advances this week in the south of Idlib province and nearby Hama, prompting a civilian exodus.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the campaign since late April and more than 500,000 people have been displaced, the UN said.

“The operation (to take Khan Sheikhoun) was difficult. The rebels were holed up for a month under heavy, continuous bombardment. Which caused them to withdraw to the north,” a military official said.

A Reuters team traveled to Khan Sheikhoun up a newly opened and de-mined part of the main south-north highway which once connected the capital Damascus to Aleppo. The sound of planes and distant explosions could still be heard in the large town in south Idlib province, heavily damaged by repeated aerial campaigns.

Khan Sheikhoun made headlines in 2017. Nearly 100 people died when the town was bombed with sarin poison gas. One of the deadliest chemical weapons attacks of the war, it prompted a US missile strike against a Syrian air base.