December 22, 2014 at 7:08 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Trial of men arrested at Egyptian bathhouse begins

Cairo, Egypt, gay news, Washington Blade

The trial of 26 men who were arrested at a Cairo bathhouse earlier this month began on Sunday. (Photo by Evan Hill of Al Jazeera English via Wikimedia Commons)

The trial of more than two dozen men who were arrested earlier this month at an Egyptian bathhouse on charges of “debauchery” and “perversion” began on Sunday.

Agence France-Presse reported that many of the 26 defendants were crying as they entered the Cairo courtroom. The news agency said police officers pushed them inside a metal cage where they remained during the proceedings.

“I am innocent,” said one man as he wept, according to Agence France-Presse. “I was in the hammam (the Arabic word for bathhouse) for therapy, I swear in the name of Allah.”

The news agency quoted a second defendant who said police officers “beat us every day and forced us to sleep on our stomachs.” Agence France-Presse further reported the men arrested inside the bathhouse underwent so-called “anal tests” to determine whether they are gay.

The Dec. 7 raid on the bathhouse in Cairo’s Ramses neighborhood sparked outrage among activists who have long been critical of Egypt’s LGBT rights record.

The State Department in response to the raid condemned “any discrimination against individuals based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.” It’s statement did not specifically refer to the raid.

Neither the State Department nor the U.S. Embassy in Cairo returned the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

Journalist claims she is victim of ‘systematic smear campaigns’

Mona Iraqi, a reporter for the program ElMestakhaby, which means “The Hidden” in Arabic, on Al Kahera Wal Nes, a pro-government television station, came under fire for reportedly tipping off authorities after she and a cameraman tried to enter the bathhouse.

One of the pictures that Iraqi posted to her Facebook page appears to show her inside the bathhouse filming with her cell phone the men who were detailed. She described the facility as “the biggest den of group perversion in the heart of Cairo” before her program broadcast video of the raid.

“In last week’s episode we disclosed a den for sex trafficking among groups in a public place in downtown Cairo,” said Iraqi in a follow-up segment that aired last week. “The disaster was not only that there is sex trafficking, but also there is no health awareness of any kind which has major consequences.”

The segment contains several audio clips of telephone conversations between men who claim those inside the bathhouse do not use condoms when having sex. It also shows detained men wearing only their underwear as police remove them from the bathhouse while Iraqi films the scene with her cell phone.

The segment also contains clips of men who said they would either kill those inside the bathhouse or burn it to the ground.

“Over the last two weeks I’ve been facing systematic smear campaigns,” said Iraqi; referring to international media outlets, human rights organizations and political activists.

She also defended her decision to enter the bathhouse and film those who were inside during the raid.

“I’m a documentary filmmaker,” said Iraqi. “My job is to observe and document.”

Al Kahera Wal Nes did not return the Blade’s request for comment.

“[Iraqi]’s encountered outrage both in Egypt and internationally over what she’s done and she’s lying to cover her tracks,” Scott Long, a former Human Rights Watch staffer, told the Blade on Monday. “Claiming that she was acting against HIV/AIDS is deceitful and dangerous to people’s health and lives. Meanwhile, she’s lying to foreigners about what Egyptian law says, and even lying about what she said — distributing mistranslated and selectively edited versions of her program. It’s disgraceful.”

Agence France-Presse reported the trial of the 26 men will resume on Jan. 4.

Long, who continues to write about the case on his blog, told the Blade the men’s lawyers have yet to see the charges filed against their clients. He further noted their family members were thrown out of the courtroom on Sunday.

“It’s not likely even to resemble a fair trial,” said Long.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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