A court in Egypt sentenced eight men to three years in prison for appearing in a video allegedly showing a gay wedding.
The video, which became an online hit after its release on YouTube in September, features two men kissing, exchanging rings and hugging among cheering friends. It was filmed on a boat on the Nile at a birthday party.
The appealable verdicts aroused an uproar among the families of the accused, who demonstrated in front of the court in central Cairo and were broken up by police. The defendants, who denied the charges, stood in silence in the courtroom cage when the verdict was read. One of them held up a copy of the Quran.
The eight were arrested in September when the Egyptian Attorney General ruled that the video was “shameful to God” and “offensive to public morality”.
At the last hearing on October 11, a spokesman for the Department of Justice’s forensics department insisted that the men were innocent.
“The whole case is made up and has no basis. The police did not arrest her in the act and the video does not prove anything, ”said Hesham Abdel Hamed.
“The medical test showed that the eight defendants have not practiced homosexuality recently or in the past.”
He was referring to anal testing, a longstanding 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 for immorality.
In the most notorious example, 52 men were arrested for their perceived sexuality in 2001, as was revealed in the Queen Boat case.
In April, four men were sentenced to eight years in prison for “debauchery” after allegedly holding gay sex parties at which women’s clothes and makeup were found.
Human Rights Watch announced in September that the Egyptian authorities had repeatedly arrested and tortured men suspected of having gay sex.
Saturday’s sentences are the latest in government crackdown on gay people and atheists. The campaign is also aimed at liberal and pro-democracy activists, as well as anyone who violates a draconian law on street protests.