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Egypt court jails eight men over 'gay marriage' video

The sentencing of eight men for three years has raised fears about a widening crackdown on Egypt’s gay community
Eight Egyptian men on trial for a video prosecutors claimed was of a gay wedding. Nov 1, 2014 (AFP)

An Egyptian court jailed eight men for three years Saturday over a video prosecutors claimed was of a gay wedding, which went viral on the Internet.

Homosexuality is not specifically banned under Egyptian law, so the men, arrested in September, were charged with "inciting debauchery and offending public morality."

The court also sentenced the eight to three years of probation once they have served their terms.

The video, filmed aboard a Nile riverboat, shows what prosecutors said was a gay wedding ceremony, with two men in the centre kissing, exchanging rings and cutting a cake with their picture on it.

The video went viral on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

One of the defendants, prior to their arrest, told a television talk show that the video was recorded during a birthday party and was misunderstood.

At the last hearing, on October 11, a spokesman for the justice ministry's forensics department insisted the men were innocent.

"The medical test showed that the eight defendants have not practised homosexuality recently or in the past," Hesham Abdel Hamed told AFP.

"The entire case is made up and lacks basis. The police did not arrest them red-handed and the video does not prove anything."

He was referring to anal examinations, a long-standing practice in Egypt that New York-based Human Rights Watch has condemned.

The rights group has demanded that the men be released.

In the past, Egyptian homosexuals have been jailed on charges ranging from "scorning religion" to "sexual practices contrary to Islam", the country's dominant religion.

Since the ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected ruler, Mohammed Morsi, in July 2013 there has been a rise in the number of arrests of people based on their sexual orientation, along with the escalated crackdown on political dissenters, activists and journalists, according to Human Rights Watch.

Last April, three men were sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of debauchery and homosexual prostitution, and a fourth was sentenced to three years. The men were arrested in an apartment where, according to the prosecution, they were dressed in women’s clothing.

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center highlighted that “in Egypt’s conservative, predominantly Muslim society, homophobia is embedded, with 95% of Egyptians sharing the conviction that ‘homosexuality should not be accepted’.”