Egyptian Actors Address HIV/AIDS, Recent Imprisonment of Men Living With Disease
Egyptian actors Amr Waked and Khaled Abul Naga are speaking out against HIV/AIDS-related stigma in the country after several people who are allegedly living with the disease have been jailed in recent months, AFP/Yahoo! News reports.
"These convictions will only further reinforce prejudices while making the fight against AIDS all the more difficult," Waked said, adding, "The deliberate confusion (around the issue) must stop -- stigmatization does not help the fight against AIDS" (Navarro, AFP/Yahoo! News, 4/26).
An Egyptian court earlier in the month 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. 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."
Adel Ramadan, an attorney for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the five men were abused and tortured over the past several months to "extract confessions." HRW and 117 other organizations sent a letter to the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population condemning the prosecutions. 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 said. 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.
According to court sources, the five men also were ordered to pay a fine of 300 Egyptian pounds, or about $55. Ramadan said the sentence 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/11).
EIPR Director Hossam Bahgat said, "Unlike incidents in the past, this is not a renewed homophobic attack, but it's an offensive against AIDS via security measures."
Abul Naga, who was recently appointed a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, called the convictions "worrying," adding that they fuel "the idea that AIDS is not a disease to treat but a crime to punish. People will be too scared to take an HIV test voluntarily." Sheikh Mohammed Saleh from Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning, said that HIV/AIDS is a "disease sent by God to punish sexual deviants." According to AFP/Yahoo! News, authorities have denied or sought to minimize the existence of HIV/AIDS in Egypt for years.
There are no official figures about HIV/AIDS cases in Egypt, according to AFP/Yahoo! News. However, Wessam al-Beih, country director of UNAIDS, said that "Egypt is one of the countries with the highest rate of increase" in HIV/AIDS cases, with the number of cases ranging from 2,000 to 17,000. About 80% of women living with the disease contracted the disease from their husbands, Beih said. Waked said he is hopeful that Egyptian society is changing. "Egypt is starting to move forward," he said, adding that a "whole generation is waiting for it" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 4/26).