Four men convicted last month by a court in Cairo of consensual homosexual sex are the victims of state prejudice against people with HIV, according to a leading human rights organisation.

A series of arrests began when one man, challenged by police during a street altercation with another man, told officers he is HIV positive.

Both were arrested and investigated for homosexual conduct, assaulted while in custody, forced to sign false statements and then had to undergo anal examinations that would be used as “proof” they had sex, says Human Rights Watch.

“These shocking arrests and trials embody both ignorance and injustice,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender >Rights Programme at HRW.

“Egypt threatens not just its international reputation but its own population if it responds to the HIV/AIDS epidemic with prison terms instead of prevention and care.”

HRW contends that forced examinations are both medically spurious and constitute torture.

Two other men were arrested after their phone numbers because their photographs or telephone numbers were found on the first two detainees.

HRW reports that the Egyptian authorities subjected all to HIV tests without their consent. All four are still in detention.

The first two arrestees, who reportedly tested HIV-positive, are being held in a Cairo hospital, handcuffed to their beds and only unchained for an hour each day.

Although Egyptian law does not explicitly forbid homosexuality, the practice is considered taboo in what is a conservative and mostly Muslim country.

The men were prosecuted for the “habitual practice of debauchery.”

The Egyptian authorities have repeatedly arrested homosexuals on the grounds of “offences against public morals and sensitivities” or “violating the teachings of religion and propagating depraved ideas and moral depravity.”

According to defence attorneys, the prosecution case was based their case only on coerced and repudiated statements taken from the men, and neither called witnesses nor produced other evidence to counter the men’s pleas of not guilty.

On Saturday a Cairo appeals court upheld their one-year prison sentence.

HRW reports that one of them is held in a Cairo hospital, chained to his bed 23 hours a day.

Most Egyptians look down on homosexuality, which leads very few Egyptian LGBTs to come out of the closet.

Any group or meeting of LGBT people is entirely underground and secret.

“These cases show Egyptian police acting on the dangerous belief that HIV is not a condition to be treated but a crime to be punished,” said Mr Long.

“HIV tests forcibly taken without consent, ill-treatment in detention, trials driven by prejudice, and convictions without evidence all violate international law.”

HRW has written to the Egyptian Public Prosecutor to express grave concern about the arrests and their consequences for Egypt’s efforts against HIV/AIDS and urged the authorities to drop the charges, end the practice of chaining detainees in hospital, and ensure that the men receive the highest available standard of medical care for any serious health conditions.

It also urged Egypt to undertake training for all criminal-justice officials on medical facts and international human rights standards in relation to HIV, and to halt immediately all testing of detainees without their consent.