Anti-LGBT arrests: 50+ groups blast Egypt repression

The display of a rainbow flag at a September concert in Cairo triggered a new round of anti-LGBT arrests in Egypt's ongoing crackdown on LGBT people and many others who are targets of the Abdel Fattah el-Sisi regime. (Photo courtesy of Rainbow Egypt via Facebook)
Rainbow flag at the Cairo concert on Sept. 21. (Photo courtesy of Rainbow Egypt via Facebook)
Rainbow flag at the Cairo concert on Sept. 22. (Photo courtesy of Rainbow Egypt via Facebook)

More than 50 human rights organizations issued a statement today decrying widespread repression in Egypt, which came to a climax recently in a wave of arrests in response to the display of a rainbow flag at a music concert. Separately, Human Rights Watch on Saturday called on Egypt to halt the anti-LGBT crackdown.

Here is the human rights organizations’ joint statement, which was drafted by LGBTQI+ activists from Egypt in coordination with other activists from the Middle East and North Africa. (The HRW appeal is below.):

Human rights and freedom of expression in Egypt — trapped between security services and the media

Following the escalating violent attempts to suppress and divide civil society organizations, restrict their resources, and increase security measures to silence advocates for human rights and freedom of speech and expression in Egypt, the Egyptian state and media have exceeded all expectations in spreading fear, discrimination and encouraging hate speech inciting Egyptian citizens against each other.

During the past week, the Egyptian state arrested Egyptian citizens for raising a rainbow flag during a concert organized by a band, “Mashrou’ Leila”, on Friday, September 22, 2017. The local media supported these arrests by publishing numerous articles and interviews encouraging hate speech against groups and individuals that have gender non-conforming identities and sexual orientations, especially targeting LGBT people in Egypt. These provoking articles invaded most news and social media platforms.

Consequently, the security attacks increased, causing the arrest of more citizens who were charged of “inciting immorality” and attending the above-mentioned concert. The Egyptian police’s statement alleged that arrested individuals are “homosexuals who raised the LGBT flag and encouraged the practice of immoral acts.” Political figures, political parties’ representatives, Members of Parliament and Al-Azhar religious scholars have also pressured the state to put an end to what they called “attempts to corrupt the youth.”

In addition, many media organizations — news websites, newspapers and broadcast media — launched campaigns to promote hate speech, using stigmatizing and demeaning terminology against individuals and their dignity. In doing so, these media organizations have neglected journalism’s code of ethics, international human rights’ values, objectivity and violated the dignity of citizens and their rights to privacy and security against violence, social discrimination and their freedom of speech and expression.

Egyptian defendants in courtroom cage during trial (Photo courtesy of DT News)
Allegedly LGBT Egyptian defendants in courtroom cage during 2014 trial (Photo courtesy of DT News)

We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, would like to remind media outlets that inciting hate speech violates human rights’ values, diversity and freedoms; we disapprove of repeated state arrests based on sexual orientation and gender identity; we refuse all acts that violate international laws and conventions such as torture in prison, humiliations and forced anal tests; and we confirm our commitment to freedom of expression and the right to security.

First: We call for human rights organizations, civil society, the international community, journalists, media experts, lawyers and all individuals who are interested in protecting human rights values to join their voices to ours and sign this statement.

Second: We remind the Egyptian state of its important responsibility of protecting the security of Egyptian citizens and guaranteeing the freedom of speech and expression as stated by the Egyptian Constitution and International Conventions.

Third: We call for media organizations to respect the values of professionalism during their coverage and defend human rights and avoid hate speech and demeaning terminology against Egyptian citizens, and refrain from giving a space to sources who intentionally spread fear and hate.



More than 50 organizations signed the statement condemning Egypt's anti-LGBT crackdown.
More than 50 organizations signed the statement condemning Egypt’s anti-LGBT crackdown.

This is the statement from Human Rights Watch:

Egypt: Stop Anti-LGBT Crackdown, Intimidation
‘Rainbow Flag’ Arrests Violate Privacy, Freedom of Expression

(September 30, 2017) -– Egypt should stop arresting and harassing people suspected of homosexuality using trumped-up “debauchery” and “inciting debauchery” charges, Human Rights Watch said today. Security forces rounded up at least eleven people in the days following a September 22, 2017 concert in Cairo at which young concertgoers waved rainbow flags, a symbol of solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people, a defiant act in a country known to persecute gay men and transgender people.

Rainbow flag displayed at the Sept. 22 Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo. (Photo courtesy of
Rainbow flag displayed at the Sept. 22 Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo. (Photo courtesy of

After concertgoers shared photos of the rainbow flag display on social media, pro-government media went on an overdrive attack and conservative politicians and religious leaders demanded that the government take action. Police arrested one man on September 23 through entrapment on a dating app, a common police technique in Egypt, and claimed he had been among those to wave a flag. On September 25, the government said that it had arrested seven people identified through video footage of the concert. Several Egyptian activists questioned the veracity of this claim, but they documented additional arrests on September 27, when police picked up six men from the streets, charging them with debauchery and claiming they were all involved in the rainbow flag incident.

“Whether they were waving a rainbow flag, chatting on a dating app, or minding their own business in the streets, all these debauchery arrest victims should be immediately released,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Egyptian government, by rounding people up based on their presumed sexual orientation, is showing flagrant disregard for their rights.”

The Dokki Misdemeanor Court in Giza sentenced the first victim on September 26 to six years in prison and a fine for “debauchery,” based on his presumed sexual conduct, and “inciting debauchery,” as prosecutors alleged he was among those who raised the rainbow flag at the concert. The court sentenced him to an additional six years of  probation, which will require reporting to the police from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. until 2029. No lawyer was present at his trial. He now has legal representation, and his appeal will be heard on October 11.

The six men arrested on September 27 are scheduled for trial on October 1. At least two more men were arrested on September 28 because of their presumed sexual orientation, and Egyptian media reported that another six men were arrested on September 28 in a raid on a home, although Human Rights Watch has not independently verified that report.

At the September 22 concert, people raised rainbow flags during the performance of the Lebanese group Mashrou’ Leila, which has an openly gay lead singer and has performed songs addressing same-sex relationships and gender identity. The Egyptian Musicians Syndicate opened an investigation into the event and banned future Mashrou’ Leila concerts in Egypt.

In Egypt, police routinely round up gay and bisexual men and transgender women, actively seeking them out and entrapping them on dating apps and through social media. One Cairo-based organization has documented the prosecution of at least 34 people for consensual same-sex conduct in the past 12 months. Since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came into power in 2014, several hundred people have been imprisoned on charges of consensual same-sex conduct.

Egyptian activists told Human Rights Watch they fear that the past week’s arrests could signal the beginning of an even harsher crackdown on LGBT people and those who publicly support them.

Egypt’s Forensic Medicine Authority also routinely subjects people to forced anal examinations. The archaic technique was devised in the 19th century to seek “evidence” of homosexual conduct, but forensic experts around the world have condemned the practice as lacking any scientific validity and violating medical ethics. The UN  special rapporteur on torture, the UN Committee against Torture, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights have described the exams as a form of torture or ill-treatment, prohibited under international law. The Egyptian Medical Syndicate has taken no steps to prevent doctors from conducting these degrading exams.

Egypt is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the rights to privacy and to freedom of expression. Egypt’s constitution also protects these rights.

“Egypt should stop dedicating state resources to hunting people down for what they allegedly do in their bedrooms, or for expressing themselves at a rock concert, and should instead focus energy on improving its dire human rights record,” Whitson said.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Egypt, visit

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About Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor / publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at

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