Egyptian Court Convicts Suspected HIV-Positive Men on Charges of ‘Debauchery’
An Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced five men to three years in prison on charges of "habitual practice of debauchery," which some human rights groups said is evidence of an "escalating crackdown" on HIV-positive Egyptians, Reuters reports. According to Human Rights Watch, the five men -- four of whom are allegedly living with HIV/AIDS -- are among 12 people arrested since October 2007 in a "spreading hunt for people suspected of being HIV-positive" (Johnston, Reuters, 4/9).
According to Adel Ramadan, an attorney for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the five men were abused and tortured over the past several months to "extract confessions" (Michael, AP/Google.com, 4/9). HRW and 117 other organizations sent a letter Monday to the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population condemning the prosecutions (AFP/Yahoo! News, 4/9). According to the letter, physicians employed by the ministry "subjected the men to HIV tests without their consent." In addition, doctors from Egypt's Forensic Medical Authority "forcibly subjected the men to intrusive, medically valueless and abusive forensic anal examinations to 'prove' they had engaged in homosexual conduct," the letter says. HRW and the other organizations also allege that the men who tested HIV-positive were chained to their beds at Cairo hospitals until Feb. 25 (HRW letter, 4/7).
According to court sources, the five men also were ordered to pay a fine of 300 Egyptian pounds, or about $55 (Reuters, 4/9). Ramadan said the sentence also includes three years police supervision after the prison sentence ends. Ramadan said he appealed the ruling to Egypt's Court of Cassation, the country's highest appellate court.
According to the AP/Google.com, the Egyptian police has denied making any arrests based off a person's HIV status (AP/Google.com, 4/9). However, Hossam Bahgat, head of EIPR, said, "These convictions are clearly based on ignorance and fear of AIDS rather than on any crime committed." He added, "Police and prosecutors think they are protecting the public, but actually this is the best way to endanger public health by driving vulnerable communities underground" (Reuters, 4/9). Hafez Abu Saada of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights said the 1961 law that the men were prosecuted under "must be changed." The law is "against the international convention of human rights, which Egypt signed in 1986," Saada said, adding that it is "also against the Egyptian Constitution, which guarantees the right to privacy and individual freedom" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 4/9).