A court in Egypt has sentenced eight men to three years in prison for appearing in a video that purported to show a gay wedding.
The video, which became an online hit after it was posted on YouTube in September, shows two men kissing, exchanging rings and embracing among cheering friends. It was filmed at a birthday party held on a boat on the Nile.
The sentences, which can be appealed, were met with uproar from the families of the defendants, who demonstrated outside the court in central Cairo, and were dispersed by police. The defendants, who had denied the charges, stood silent in the courtroom cage as the verdict was read, one of them holding up a copy of the Qur’an.
The eight were arrested in September when Egypt’s chief prosecutor decided that the video was “shameful to God” and “offensive to public morals”.
At the last hearing, on October 11, a spokesman for the justice ministry’s forensics department insisted the men were innocent.
“The entire case is made up and lacks the basis. The police did not arrest them red-handed and the video does not prove anything,” Hesham Abdel Hamed said.
“The medical test showed that the eight defendants have not practiced homosexuality recently or in the past.”
He was referring to anal examinations, a long-standing practice in Egypt that Human Rights Watch has condemned. The New York-based lobby group had called for the men to be released.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, but it is a social taboo, and allegedly gay men have often been arrested on charges of immorality.
In the most notorious example, 52 men were arrested in 2001 for their perceived sexuality, in what became known as the Queen Boat case.
In April, four men were convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for “debauchery” after allegedly holding gay sex parties where women’s clothing and makeup were found.
Human Rights Watch said in September that Egyptian authorities had repeatedly arrested and tortured men suspected of having gay sex.
Saturday’s sentences are the latest in a crackdown by authorities against gay people and atheists. The campaign also targets liberal and pro-democracy activists and anyone who breaks a draconian law on street protests.