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Egypt detains two men on 'suspicion' over their sexual orientation: HRW

Seif Bedour and Ahmed al-Ganzoury are now imprisoned with alleged Fairmont hotel rapists and have been subjected to abuse in custody, rights group says
HRW Egypt arrests
Egyptian authorities arrested Seif Bedour (left) and Ahmed al-Ganzoury (right) for 'suspicion' over their sexual orientation (Human Rights Watch/Private)

Egyptian authorities have unlawfully detained two men, citing “suspicion” over their sexual orientation and under the pretext of investigation into a high-profile gang-rape case, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.

The rights group called for the immediate release of 21-year-old Seif Bedour and 40-year-old Ahmed al-Ganzoury, who were arrested separately in August and are now facing charges of drug use and “homosexual debauchery”, despite denials from their families. 

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Bedour and Ganzoury are among a number of individuals arrested in connection with the 2014 Fairmont Nile City hotel gang rape case, in which a group of at least nine men allegedly raped an 18-year-old woman during a party, then used a video of the incident to blackmail her into silence. 

The case has been grabbing headlines in Egypt since allegations surfaced on social media in July. Accusations were levelled at a number of wealthy young men by users urging the authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable, as an anti-sexual assault movement labelled “Egypt’s MeToo” gathered momentum.

However, despite promises of justice and assurances of anonymity, Egyptian authorities have been pursuing the prosecution of several witnesses in the rape case, accusing them of working to damage the country’s image. 

Bedour's family was shocked by his detention, saying he had voluntarily accompanied a female friend - a witness - to the police station after she had been seized from her home at dawn.

“He didn’t want her to be alone in a difficult situation,” his family said, adding that Bedour was only 14 at the time of the Fairmont incident and had nothing to do with the case.

Also present at the police station was Ganzoury, who was initially summoned by police because he was an organiser of the Fairmont party.

Ganzoury is a known figure in the party and concert-planning scene of Egypt’s upper class, and his family told MEE that he had been arrested at his house in late August.

Human rights violations

HRW accused the police of unlawfully searching the two men’s phones at the police station and, based on private photographs they found, detaining them for allegedly engaging in same-sex conduct.

Homosexuality is illegal in Egypt and members of the LGBT community are often victimised and face time in jail under the crime of “practising and spreading debauchery”.

According to their families, Bedour and Ganzoury were forced to undergo drug testing and anal exams, which authorities routinely carry out to seek 'proof' of same-sex conduct

Bedour and Ganzoury have been remanded in custody ever since, with judges renewing their pre-trial detention three times in hearings that they were not allowed to attend due to the coronavirus pandemic, the rights group said.

On 14 October, the two men were transferred from a Cairo police station to al-Nahda prison, where they are now detained in the same cell as the suspected Fairmont rapists, HRW said.

According to their families, Bedour and Ganzoury’s heads were shaved in prison and they were forced to undergo drug testing and anal exams, which authorities routinely carry out to seek “proof” of same-sex conduct. 

Such practice is a “form of torture and sexual assault” under international human rights law, said HRW. 

Activists say the recent arrests have ended hopes that the Egyptian state was genuine in its vows to tackle endemic sexual assault and protect survivors.

Government-affiliated media appear to have reframed the alleged gang rape as a “group-sex party”, while the legal team of the alleged rapists have painted the survivor of the assault as scandalous and portrayed the 2014 incident as a consensual sexual act among homosexual and group-sex activities.