Egypt accused of “indifference to justice and public health” as HIV convictions upheld
“Police, prosecutors, and doctors have already abused them and violated their most basic rights, and now fear has trumped justice in a court of law.”
As in previous cases, authorities forced the detainees to undergo HIV tests without their consent.
Four of the five convicted last month tested positive.
They were charged with the “habitual practice of debauchery,” a term which in Egyptian law includes consensual sexual acts between men.
These convictions 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).
A lawyer for the five men has claimed they were beaten by police who tried to get them to confess to homosexual acts.
More than 115 organisations that advocate human rights and the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS have protested to the government of Egypt.
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.
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.”
The current wave of arrests began in October 2007, when police intervened between two men having an argument in the street in central Cairo.
When one of them told the officers that he was HIV-positive, police immediately took them both to the Morality Police office and opened an investigation against them for homosexual conduct.
Police demanded the names of their friends and sexual contacts during interrogations.
The two men told lawyers that officers slapped and beat them for refusing to sign statements the police wrote for them.
The men spent four days in the Morality Police office handcuffed to an iron desk, and were left to sleep on the floor.
Police later subjected the two men to forensic anal examinations designed to “prove” that they had engaged in homosexual conduct.
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Such forcible examinations to detect “evidence” of homosexuality are not only medically spurious, but also can amount to torture.
On January 14, 2008, a Cairo court sentenced four of those men to one-year prison terms on “debauchery” charges.
An appeals court upheld those sentences on February 2. The five defendants whose appeal was rejected this week were tried in March.
Authorities released three other men, who tested negative for HIV, without charge, after months in detention.
Police and guards beat several of the men in detention. A prosecutor told one of the men that he had tested positive for HIV by saying, “People like you should be burnt alive. You do not deserve to live.”
The prisoners who tested positive were chained to their beds in hospitals for months. After a local and international outcry, the Ministry of Health ordered the men unchained on February 25.
“Putting these men in prison serves neither justice nor public health,” Mr Amon said.
“The Egyptian government and the country’s medical profession must act to end this campaign of intolerance.”