Most LGBT arrests in Egypt result from 'sexting' by morality police

Egyptian morality police are systematically using fake social media accounts to target LGBT people, according to a report published yesterday.

Out of 232 prosecutions for "non-normative" sexual behaviour over the last four years, 129 – more than half – were the result of entrapment through dating websites of mobile phone apps, research by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) has found. Transgender women are a particular target for entrapment by this method, it says.

Egypt's recent moral panic over rainbow flags at a pop concert, which resulted in the arrests of at least 75 people, attracted international attention but the report shows this was only one part of a broader pattern. Since the Sisi regime seized power in 2013, prosecutions have been averaging almost five time the level of previous years, EIPR says.

Egypt has no specific law against homosexuality but prosecutions of people suspected of being gay or transgender are usually brought under a law against "habitual debauchery".

The report also criticises sensationalist coverage of such cases in Egyptian media in which "individuals are demonised, defamed and represented as subhuman". They are presented as a threat to the moral fabric of society and a danger to citizens – especially any who are living with HIV/AIDS.

Entrapment work is carried out by a branch of the interior ministry known as the General Directorate for Protecting Public Morality. Officers often correspond with their targets in English or Gulf Arabic in order to allay suspicion and engage in sexually explicit conversations which may last for months before a meeting is set up.

They also try to persuade their targets to accept money in exchange for sex – which makes conviction easier. An article in Middle East Eye last month described one example:

As the chat continued, the morality police agent repeatedly asked the man if he would accept money in exchange for anal sex.

“I’m not a business,” the man responded but after repeated insistence on the part of the officer, posing as a wealthy man, the man eventually agreed to accepting $50.

Another entrapment case, in 2015, involved a man called Firas who went to a square in the Dokki district of Cairo to meet someone he had been talking with online. Firas told a researcher from EIPR: 

"He had asked me to buy condoms and some supplies for the evening. I went there with these things — which were later confiscated as evidence for the case — and I waited.

"He was late, so I sent him a message saying that he’s late and that I have the right to leave, and he replied apologising and blaming the traffic.

"Later, a black car with a driver stopped. I could see a driver as well as a passenger in the backseat. He asked me to sit next to him and said that we would go to his place."

As the car set off it was stopped by police and Firas was arrested. He was initially sentenced to a year in jail but was eventually acquitted on appeal. 

Treating possession of condoms as evidence – as happened in Firas's case – is  especially alarming. EIPR's report comments: "This practice presents a major threat to the health of gay and transgender women and men who have sex with men."

Possession of cosmetics and women's clothing has also been treated as evidence in trials, even though there is no law against it.

The Egyptian authorities have long been criticised for making use of anal examinations by doctors in "debauchery" cases. Such tests are not scientifically valid and are widely regarded as medically unethical. 

EIPR gives more details of what is involved, citing the medical reports from several cases. In one case in 2015, prosecutors made five requests to the Forensic Medicine Authority:

1. Carrying out a medical examination to check for habitual practice of debauchery through repeated anal penetration and if they were repeatedly used and the manifestations of this on them …

2. Examining the anus of both defendants for any traces of seminal fluid and testing whether they match the seminal fluids of other defendants.

3. Examining the evidence for seminal fluid and determining whether they match with either defendants.

4. Examining the evidence and determining how it may have been used in sexual activity.

5. Taking urine and blood samples from defendants to test for the presence of drugs, sleeping pills, alcohol or any mind-altering substances or not, and if affirmed, what is the nature of said substance.

In the same case, defendants were also sent to be tested for sexually transmitted infections. EIPR comments:

The increasing involvement of the medical sector and specifically the Forensic Medicine Authority in the cases of habitual debauchery is an alarming indicator as to how implicated the medical establishment is in such egregious violations. Forced anal examinations are now considered by the UN Committee against Torture as a method of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, which may constitute torture. 

The doctors carrying out the examinations are in clear violation of the Constitution, which guarantees the right of all citizens to dignity. They are also in violation of the oath doctors take to preserve patients’ dignity, and to article 35 and article 28 of the Medical Code of Ethics, which prohibits doctors from carrying out any medical examination without informed consent.

In what appears to be a recent development, the authorities are now also using medical tests to determine the "guilt" or otherwise of transgender people.

In another case in 2015 the judge ordered tests to determine whether the accused had "taken medication to help alter the shape of their bodies and their masculinity". 

On examination, a doctor found that the external reproductive organs were "in their normal masculine, adult shape and size". According to the medical report, blood tests also showed "the hormones percentage in the blood is normal and acquits [sic] any defendant from the charge of consuming medication that alter physical or masculine attributes".