Some Justice for Egypt’s Bathhouse Case Victims
Nearly a year ago, Egyptian police arrested 26 men in a traditional hammam bathhouse under charges of “debauchery.” The mass arrest stemmed from collusion between investigative journalist Mona Iraqi and Cairo authorities. The court ultimately absolved the men of any wrongdoing, but Iraqi published images of them being dragged to jail, naked, in handcuffs. She never apologized for effectively ruining their lives or for betraying the professional and ethical values of her trade by colluding with the state.
Now, Iraqi is getting her comeuppance.
This week an Egyptian court found Iraqi guilty of defamation and spreading false news. She will spend six months in jail and pay a fine of 10,000 EGP (equivalent to $1,277). Tarek al-Awadi, the bathhouse defendants’ lawyer, initiated the charges against Iraqi after securing their acquittal. This is Iraqi’s second conviction for unethical journalistic practices this year. The other charge originated from filming someone without their consent.
While homosexuality is not clearly criminalized in Egypt, law enforcement targets members of the LGBT community under “debauchery” and “inciting public immorality” charges. LGBT Egyptians are one of the most vulnerable communities in the region and routinely experience violence. Iraqi’s actions, under the guise of exposing illegal sex work, not only contributed to the continuing marginalization of the LGBT community, but also undermined press independence–something Egypt direly needs.
Iraqi promoted her role in the raid on social media, leading journalists and activists to call for an end to “informer journalism” and demand that Egyptian media end its role in police persecution of the LGBT community. Ironically, the platforms used to demand reforms are also routinely used to target LGBT Egyptians. Authorities throughout the region use mobile apps such as Grindr, Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp to entrap LGBT individuals. Egyptian police successfully did so as recently as September.
LGBT Egyptians endure marginalization and persecution, facing violence and imprisonment for simply being true to their identities. Although Iraqi’s conviction won’t change that, the 26 men who became social pariahs in the aftermath of her reporting may find some semblance of peace.