Informer Journalists, Police Brutality, and Alleged Debauchery: Egypt’s Bathhouse Case
In countries with anti-LGBT regimes, the media can often add fuel to the homophobic fire of public sentiment. This dynamic was readily apparent in Egypt’s recent court case involving 26 men arrested on suspicion of “debauchery” in a traditional hammam bathhouse on December 7th in Cairo.
Mona Iraqi, a journalist investigating prostitution and the spread of HIV, informed the authorities that the men would be at the bathhouse. During the raid, Iraqi filmed them as they were escorted naked into police custody. She boasted on social media after the raid, calling the result “beautiful.”
In Uganda in 2011, a local newspaper published photos of members of the LGBT community while the legislature considered a provision that would have punished homosexual acts with the death penalty, placing them at serious risk. In January of 2014 another Ugandan newspaper did the same thing after the now-invalidated Anti-Homosexuality Bill passed, under which they could have faced life imprisonment.
The Egyptian case, however, presents a different challenge for the LGBT community. By colluding with authorities to identify and perhaps entrap gay men, Iraqi blurred the line between a press already lacking any semblance of independence and a full-fledged arm of the State.
In response to her reporting on the bathhouse case, activists urged their Twitter followers to use the hashtag #StopInformerJournalists in English and Arabic and lambasted the media’s role in the continuing escalation of police action against Egypt’s LGBT community. The outrage spread and Switzerland’s International Short Film Festival ‘Shnit’ rescinded an invite to Iraqi for professional and ethical practices deemed incongruous with the principles of the event.
In custody, the 26 men reportedly faced abuse at the hands of the police, including so-called forensic anal exams and other cruel treatment. The case garnered widespread criticism internationally following a concentrated social media campaign targeting the media’s role in stoking anti-LGBT attitudes and the wider problem of state sponsored homophobia and brutality committed by Egyptian authorities.
This week all 26 men were acquitted—the first time an Egyptian trial court has ever dropped charges against men accused of homosexuality in a high-profile case. While certainly good news for the 26 men involved, the reasoning for the verdict is unclear and may have more to do with whether the prosecutor could “prove” homosexual acts at the bathhouse rather than the unjust foundation of the law.
While this verdict may have limited impact for the Egyptian LGBT community at large, it’s an encouraging example of social media being used to promote equality. In recent years, authorities in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Lebanon have used social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Grindr, and WhatsApp as a weapon to target and entrap LGBT individuals.
The fight for the 26 men isn’t over just yet, however: the government announced that they intend to appeal the verdict. The need to stay engaged is as strong as ever.