More than 60 members of Egypt’s parliament have proposed a deeply discriminatory law that will explicitly criminalise same-sex sexual activity in the country for the first time, said Amnesty International. The move is the latest development since authorities launched an unprecedented LGBTI crackdown after a rainbow flag was displayed at a concert in Cairo on 22 September.
The proposed bill defines “homosexuality” for the first time and sets harsher penalties of up to five years imprisonment – or even up to 15 years if a person is convicted on multiple charges under different provisions of the law.
“For more than a month now the Egyptian authorities have waged a vicious crackdown targeting LGBTI people in the country. More than 70 people have been arrested and some have been subjected to anal examinations that amount to torture. This deeply discriminatory bill would be a huge setback for human rights and another nail in the coffin for sexual rights in Egypt,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.
“If passed, this law would further entrench stigma and abuse against people based on their perceived sexual orientation. No one should face discrimination, intimidation or imprisonment based on their real or perceived sexual orientation. The Egyptian authorities must urgently scrap this draft law and put an end to this alarming wave of homophobic persecution.”
Riad Abdel Sattar, an MP from the liberal “Free Egyptians” party proposed the new law after collecting at least 67 signatures from members of parliament. The draft bill is expected to be reviewed and discussed by the parliament during its current session and if voted for, it will be sent to the president for sign off.
The bill – comprised of seven articles – sets penalties of up to five years in prison for engaging in same-sex sexual relations that are mentioned in the draft bill as acts of “homosexuality”. “Promoting or inciting homosexuality” is also punishable by up to five years in prison.
Up until now the Egyptian authorities have relied on the prostitution law no 10 of 1961 to charge people suspected of engaging in same-sex sexual activity with “habitual debauchery” – an offence punishable by up to three years in prison.
The draft law also prohibits the public promotion or advertising of any LGBTI gatherings or parties, whether through audio or video publications or via social media. The penalty set for such acts is up to three years imprisonment. Displaying an LGBTI symbol or sign, or producing, promoting, selling, or marketing such products would also be punishable by up to three years in prison.
The bill further states that those convicted would face probation periods after they have served the term for a duration equivalent to the prison term they have received. Amnesty International has found that individuals under probation in Egypt are often forced to stay in a local police station 12 hours daily meaning they are effectively deprived of their liberty.
The bill also includes a clause that licenses the authorities to publicly “shame” individuals convicted under the draft law by publishing their names and sentences in two widely read national newspapers fuelling the widespread stigma against people perceived to be gay.
“Not only does this draft law propose to criminalise same sex sexual relations – which should not be an offence in the first place – it is also intended to fuel stigma, humiliation and hatred against people based on their real or perceived sexual orientation,” said Colm O’Gorman.
“World leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron who received president Abd el-Fattah al-Sisi last month at the Elysee, must speak out to condemn this homophobic crackdown. Instead of rolling out their red carpets to welcome the Egyptian president in European capitals and sign new deals, they should be using their leverage to ensure the parliament drops this deeply repressive draft law.”
A 1994 ruling by the UN Human Rights Committee found that laws criminalising consensual sex in private between adults of the same sex violated the right to privacy as guaranteed by Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Wave of arrests
According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, at least 75 people from different governorates across Egypt have been arrested since the LGBTI crackdown began on 22 September, with most of them entrapped through online dating apps.
At least five men among those arrested were subjected to anal examinations that amounts to torture and at least 20 were sentenced to between six-month and six-year prison terms in significantly expedited trials. The rest of the detainees are held in different prisons and police stations pending questioning by prosecutors.