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LGBTQ activists subjected to ‘forced virginity exams’ in Egypt: HRW Open in fullscreen

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LGBTQ activists subjected to ‘forced virginity exams’ in Egypt: HRW

HRW interviewed over a dozen LGBTQ Egyptians [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 October, 2020

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Egyptian police and prosecutors have been accused of inflicting verbal abuse, extracting forced confessions and denying detainees access to legal counsel and medical care.

Egyptian police forces are continuing a campaign of harassment that includes arbitrarily arresting and torturing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) citizens, Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed in a new report.

Security forces in the country pick people off the streets "based solely on their gender expression" and monitor and trap them through their social networking activity and dating applications they use, the report said.

Torture, including repeated beatings and sexual violence under the guise of anal exams or "virginity tests" were often undertaken by police during custody, it added.

Police and prosecutors also allegedly inflicted verbal abuse, extracted forced confessions, and denied detainees access to legal counsel and medical care.

"Egyptian authorities seem to be competing for the worst record on rights violations against LGBT people in the region, while the international silence is appalling," said Rasha Younes, LGBTQ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Fifteen people were interviewed for the HRW report, including LGBTQ people who were prosecuted between 2017 and 2020, two lawyers and two local LGBTQ activists.

One woman said she underwent three forced vaginal and anal examinations during her detention – a procedure authorities call "virginity tests". She reportedly suffered long-term damage as a result of the assault.

"Morality and public order are hijacked, not preserved, when security forces arbitrarily arrest people and subject them to life-altering abuse in detention," Younes said.

"Egypt’s partners should halt support to its abusive security forces until the country takes effective steps to end this cycle of abuse, so that LGBT people can live freely in their country."

Twenty-year-old transgender woman and human rights activist Malak el-Kashif was arbitrarily detained for four months, sexually harassed, and abused in a male prison in 2019, according to the report.

Twenty-seven-year old Yasser (not real name) was allegedly tricked by Egyptian authorities whilst using the gay dating app Grindr.

"They took me to the ‘morality ward’ and kept me until 4 a.m. in a tiny room with no food or water," he recalled.

"They took my phone and belongings. When they came back with a police report, I was surprised to see the guy I met on Grindr is one of the officers.

"They beat me and cursed me until I signed papers that said I was ‘practicing debauchery’ and publicly announcing it to fulfil my ‘unnatural sexual desires’."

In reviewing judicial files for 13 cases of people prosecuted under "debauchery" and "prostitution" laws between 2017 and 2020, HRW found that Egyptian authorities had arbitrarily arrested seven men by entrapping them on dating apps, including Grindr, and social media platforms Facebook and WhatsApp.

Police randomly picked up five men because of what the authorities described as "feminine and gay gestures" and one transgender woman due to her "abnormal appearance."

Earlier this year, Egyptian LGBT activist Sara Hegazy took her own life in Canada where she lived in exile, shaking Egypt. She had been "oppressed" by the Cairo government, Amnesty International said at the time.

The human rights group said in a tweet that Hegazy was "forced to seek exile in Canada after going through a very harsh experience in prison (in Egypt) in 2017."

Hegazy was arrested in 2017 for raising the rainbow flag of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community during a concert in Egypt of Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila, whose lead singer is openly gay.

She was jailed for three months and, according to several LGBT activists, was tortured and sexually abused.

Hegazy was released on bail in January 2018 after an online campaign demanding she be set free.

That same year she sought asylum in Canada where her lifeless body was found at her home, alongside a suicide note in which, according to Amnesty, she spoke of her detention.

"The experience was harsh and I am too weak to resist it. Forgive me," Amnesty quoted Hegazy as saying.

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