Eight men accused of attending a marriage-like ceremony on the Nile have been jailed for three years in the latest of a series of moves against Egypt’s gay community.
A court ruled the defendants had endangered public morality after appearing in a video that featured an exchange of vows between two men.
Described online as Egypt’s “first gay marriage”, the scene showed the pair embracing, exchanging rings and celebrating with their friends on a small boat – footage that outraged conservative Egypt, prompting a media backlash when it appeared on YouTube in September.
The judgment was passed after the eight men were subjected to anal tests that state doctors said proved the men were not gay. It also followed claims from one of the participants that the footage showed a birthday party, not a wedding. Interviewed anonymously by a television talk show before his arrest, the man said: “I’m not the groom, I’m just a normal guy, having a birthday party with one of our friends – nothing more, nothing less … I knew that he wanted a ring, so I brought it as a birthday present.”
The case follows a rise over the past year in raids on private properties and street arrests targeting Egypt’s gay community. In recent weeks, many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Egyptians have scaled back their use of dating apps such as Grindr, fearing that the police may be using them to entrap gay men.
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 what became known as the Queen Boat case, 52 men were arrested in 2001 for their perceived sexuality.
Activists speculate that the recent increase in state pressure on Egypt’s gay community is linked to the government’s desire to prove their socially conservative credentials, after members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group ousted by Egypt’s current regime last summer, used the footage to claim its overthrow has led to the destruction of Egyptian values.
“The coup leaders have adopted the west’s agenda,” tweeted former Brotherhood MP Azza al-Garf, who said Egypt had been turned into a “place of sin”. One anonymous policeman subsequently claimed to Buzzfeed that the arrests had been ordered from on high.
In response to recent developments, LGBT activists in Egypt have distributed guidelines advising what to do if targeted.