Inquisitorial authority

17 May 2016

May 17 coincides with the International Day Against Homophobia. Despite the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of world days to celebrate certain groups, but sometimes they do help to spark a discussion or spotlight the deplorable status of these groups in particular countries, like the status of gay and transgender people in Egypt.

In December 2014, the Administrative Court issued a ruling in a case filed by a Libyan citizen living in Cairo who challenged a decree from the interior minister and his deputy that included his name on the list of persons banned entry to Egypt, after the Interior Minister deported him for being gay and engaging in debauchery. The court denied the suit. In other words, it ruled that it is within the ministry of interior's rights to deport foreigners based on their sexual orientation, even without any criminal conviction.

At a time when rights groups around the world are trying to combat the stigma associated with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and resist the attempts of their pathologization, some people associated with the rights community in Egypt are making statements that can charitably be described as discriminatory and inflammatory. Some rights advocates have volunteered to give statements in support of the court ruling, saying, “The ruling is consistent with religion and norms. This ruling legitimizes the Interior Ministry administration to uphold society’s morals and the integrity of its thought.”

The ruling sets a dangerous legal precedent. Setting the Interior Ministry above the law, it allows the minister to deport foreigners if their presence poses a threat to national security or public morals. But we don’t know exactly what threat the Libyan citizen posed to religious and social values. The Public Prosecution ordered his release without referring him to trial, meaning that the charge of engaging in debauchery was not proven, despite allegations in the police report. Moreover, the report of the Commissioners’ Body, solicited by the judge before issuing his ruling, recommended accepting the suit on both formal and substantive grounds and overturning the order denying him entry to Egypt. The report said that overriding the decree would uphold the principle of individuals’ freedom of movement. It also cautioned against allowing the Interior Ministry’s discretionary power to grant residency to foreigners to become an absolute power not subject to judicial review.

But the judge in the case disregarded all the evidence and recommendations, saying in his ruling that the plaintiff was “a sexual deviant who engages in debauchery in his home for material gain.” Since the plaintiff was not convicted by an Egyptian criminal court, this assertion was based solely on the fact that he was charged. So is an accusation from the Interior Ministry now tantamount to a court ruling?

The legal course of debauchery cases in Egypt demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that police stations often fabricate charges against individuals without evidence. So relying solely on police reports as “proof” infringes individuals’ right to justice. One need only cast a cursory glance at the police report in the Bab al-Bahr Bathhouse case to see the extent of police fabrication. In fact, one of the defense arguments made by defense attorneys in the case was that the police report was simply implausible. In the end, the judge acquitted all defendants in that case and denied the prosecution’s appeal.

The court ruling deporting the Libyan citizen kills two birds with one stone. It not only stokes homophobia, but also fuels hostility toward foreigners. Many people fear—rightly so—that police may abuse this authority to deport foreigners whose political activity or opinions are unwelcome. This authority could very easily become a tool to punish troublesome, unwanted foreigners.

Of course, the wider context of the ruling cannot be ignored. Since late 2013, the vice police have arrested dozens of people for alleged involvement in debauchery. Aside from the flagrant police abuses of arrestees as documented by rights groups, from beatings and humiliation to sexual harassment and threats of sexual violence, this crackdown has been accompanied by sensational media coverage that grossly infringes the privacy of the arrested persons, showing utter contempt for their private life and safety and security. Many newspapers and websites published the passport number of the Libyan citizen, his home address, his place of study, and other private details of his life. Such violations may seem trivial, but they have grave consequences that make these media actions a crime of catastrophic proportions for the individuals. When it is discovered that people are implicated in such cases, they typically lose their jobs and may be kicked out of their homes. The shame is at times great enough to lead them to attempt suicide. One of the defendants acquitted in the Bab al-Bahr (the bathhouse) case attempted to set himself on fire after the conclusion of the trial.

The rabid media assault on LGBT people gives additional credence to the widespread, but erroneous, belief that homosexuality is a crime in Egypt. Egyptian law criminalizes debauchery, which legally requires one man to be involved with multiple sexual partners in exchange for material benefit. These media campaigns also further cement the notion that homosexuality is a psychological disorder requiring treatment.

Homosexuality is not a disease. Homosexuality is not a crime.

This article has published via Mada Masr in Arabic