More than 115 organisations that advocate human rights and the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS have protested to the government of Egypt over a spate of recent arrests.

The groups signing the letter represent 41 countries on six continents, among them Human Rights Watch and Amnesty.

In a letter to the Health Ministry and the Egyptian Doctors’ Syndicate, the groups said that doctors who helped interrogate men jailed on suspicion of being HIV-positive violated their own medical ethics.

Five more men face trial in Cairo on Wednesday in what has been called “a police crackdown” on people living with HIV/AIDS.

At least 12 men have been arrested and four have already been sentenced to a year in jail.

The most recent arrests occurred after police used information coerced from men already in detention, according to the Health and Human Rights Programme of the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

As in all previous cases, authorities forced the new detainees to undergo HIV testing without their consent.

All those testing positive had been held in Cairo hospitals, chained to their beds.

After a domestic and international outcry, the Ministry of Health finally ordered the men unchained on 25th February.

All the men were charged with the “habitual practice of debauchery,” a term which in Egyptian law includes consensual sexual acts between men.

EIPR reportedly found a document from the Ministry of Health and Population titled Questionnaire for Patients with HIV/AIDS in one of the men’s case files.

It includes ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions that doctors from the ministry apparently use to interrogate people in the crackdown about whether they had sexual relations ‘with the other sex’ or ‘with the same sex,’ and ‘with one person’ or ‘with more than one person.’

Prosecutors included the men’s answers that they had relations with the same sex as evidence of their guilt.

Malcolm Smart, director of the Middle East and North Africa programme of Amnesty International, said:

“It is unacceptable for doctors to perform forcible HIV tests, or to examine people to ‘prove’ offences that should never be criminalised.

“Doctors who engage in or enable human rights abuses are violating their most elemental responsibilities.”

Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS programme at Human Rights Watch, said:

“Doctors must put patients first, not join a witch-hunt driven by prejudice.

“Now more than 100 human rights groups are reminding Egyptian doctors of the oath they took to respect patients’ privacy, autonomy, and consent.

“This is one of the oldest traditions of medical responsibility, as well as an obligation under human rights law.”

To read the letter from 117 health and human rights organisations to Egypt’s Health Ministry and the Egyptian Doctors’ Syndicate click here.