Egyptian Court Sends Five Men to Prison for Homosexual Acts in Case Condemned by Rights Groups

In Egypt on Wednesday, five men were convicted on charges of homosexual behavior and sentenced to three years in prison in what dozens of human rights groups say is a crackdown on people with HIV/AIDS. Four of the five men tested HIV-positive after all were forced to undergo blood tests in custody, said New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The five men were among 12 people arrested in an October sweep that began when police arrested a man during an altercation with another man on a Cairo street, HRW said. After one of the men said he had HIV, police began investigating other men whose names or contact information was uncovered in interrogations of the first group of men, it said.

In mid-January, four other HIV-positive men from the group of 12 were given one-year sentences on similar charges. HRW said three others from the 12 were not prosecuted. Egyptian police deny making any arrests stemming from a person's HIV status.

The defense lawyer for the five men convicted Wednesday, Adel Ramadan, said they were found guilty of the "habitual practice of debauchery," a term used in the Egyptian legal system to imply consensual homosexual acts. The country's legal code does not explicitly refer to homosexuality, though a wide range of laws covering obscenity, prostitution, and debauchery are used to prosecute homosexuals.

Ramadan said the five men were abused and tortured over previous months to "extract confessions" from them. In addition to prison time, the men were sentenced to an additional three years of police supervision, meaning they will have to remain in a police station from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. every night, he said.

Ramadan said he has appealed the verdict to the country's highest appellate court, the Court of Cassation.