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.

Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

Updated 7 min 30 sec ago

Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

  • The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is putting increased pressure on the nation’s armed factions, including Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops and Kurdish guerrillas, in an attempt to tighten his control over them, Iraqi military commanders and analysts said on Monday.

Military commanders have been stripped of some of their most important powers as part of the efforts to prevent them from being drawn into local or regional conflicts.

The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq. 

Each side has dozens of allied armed groups in the country, which has been one of the biggest battlegrounds for the two countries since 2003. 

Attempting to control these armed factions and military leaders is one of the biggest challenges facing the Iraqi government as it works to keep the country out of the conflict.

On Sunday, Abdul Mahdi dissolved the leadership of the joint military operations. 

They will be replaced by a new one, under his chairmanship, that includes representatives of the ministries of defense and interior, the military and security services, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and the Ministry of Peshmerga, which controls the military forces of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

According to the prime minister’s decree, the main tasks of the new command structure are to “lead and manage joint operations at the strategic and operational level,” “repel all internal and external threats and dangers as directed by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,” “manage and coordinate the intelligence work of all intelligence and security agencies,” and “coordinate with international bodies that support Iraq in the areas of training and logistical and air support.”

“This decree will significantly and effectively contribute to controlling the activities of all combat troops, not just the PMU,” said a senior military commander, who declined to be named. 

“This will block any troops associated with any local political party, regional or international” in an attempt to ensure troops serve only the government’s goals and the good of the country. 

“This is explicit and unequivocal,” he added.

Since 2003, the political process in Iraq has been based on political power-sharing system. This means that each parliamentary bloc gets a share of top government positions, including the military, proportionate to its number of seats in Parliament. Iran, the US and a number of regional countries secure their interests and ensure influence by supporting Iraqi political factions financially and morally.

This influence has been reflected in the loyalties and performance of the majority of Iraqi officials appointed by local, regional and international parties, including the commanders of combat troops.

To ensure more government control, the decree also stripped the ministers of defense and interior, and leaders of the counterterrorism, intelligence and national security authorities, and the PMU, from appointing, promoting or transferring commanders. This power is now held exclusively by Abdul Mahdi.

“The decree is theoretically positive as it will prevent local, regional and international parties from controlling the commanders,” said another military commander. 

“This means that Abdul Mahdi will be responsible to everyone inside and outside Iraq for the movement of these forces and their activities.

“The question now is whether Abdul Mahdi will actually be able to implement these instructions or will it be, like others, just ink on paper?”

The PMU is a government umbrella organization established by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki in June 2014 to encompass the armed factions and volunteers who fought Daesh alongside the Iraqi government. Iranian-backed factions such as Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah represent the backbone of the forces.

The US, one of Iraq’s most important allies in the region and the world, believes Iran is using its influence within the PMU to destabilize and threaten Iraq and the region. Abdul Mahdi is under huge external and internal pressure to abolish the PMU and demobilize its fighters, who do not report or answer to the Iraqi government.

The prime minister aims to ease tensions between the playmakers in Iraq, especially the US and Iran, by preventing their allies from clashing on the ground or striking against each other’s interests.

“Abdul Mahdi seeks to satisfy Washington and reassure them that the (armed) factions of the PMU will not move against the will of the Iraqi government,” said Abdullwahid Tuama, an Iraqi analyst.

The prime minister is attempting a tricky balancing act by aiming to protect the PMU, satisfy the Iranians and prove to the Americans that no one is outside the authority of the state, he added.