Egyptian police using dating apps to find, arrest gay people in new crackdown

Lebanese band Mashrou Leila performs in the United Arab Emirates, on April, 7, 2017. Egyptian authorities are cracking down on LGBTQ people after the crowd flew rainbow flags during the band's recent concert in Cairo. KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images

In a new crackdown, Egyptian authorities are using dating apps to find gay men, arresting and prosecuting them, and subjecting them to forced anal examinations, according to human rights organizations.

At least 33 people have been arrested since Sept. 23, a day after a group of people was seen raising a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo, a rare public show of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the conservative Muslim country.

Sixteen men went on trial on Sunday charged with “promoting sexual deviancy” and “debauchery,” euphemisms for homosexuality. A verdict is due on Oct. 29.

One man has been sentenced to six years in prison over similar charges.

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According to a press release from Human Rights Watch, the police arrested one man through entrapment on a dating app – something they say is a common police technique in Egypt. Amnesty International said six were arrested for promoting “habitual debauchery” on a dating app.

The government claimed to have identified others through video footage of the concert, says Human Rights Watch, and one woman has also been arrested.

Egyptian authorities have long used dating apps targeted at the LGBTQ community, such as Grindr, to track down people.

“In Egypt, police routinely round up gay and bisexual men and transgender women, actively seeking them out and entrapping them on dating apps and through social media,” said Human Rights Watch.

News reports from as early as 2014 suggest that the Grindr app warned users about potential danger when they logged in from Egypt.

Although homosexuality is not specifically outlawed in Egypt, it is a conservative society and discrimination is rife. Gay men are frequently arrested and typically charged with debauchery, immorality or blasphemy.

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Those arrested are subjected to anal examinations to determine whether they have had gay sex, which rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say amounts to torture.

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Five such examinations have taken place, Amnesty International said on Monday. Judicial sources do not deny the examinations take place but say they are legally carried out and are not a form of abuse.

“In a matter of days the Egyptian security forces have rounded up dozens of people and carried out five anal examinations signalling a sharp escalation in the authorities’ efforts to persecute and intimidate members of the LGBTI community following the rainbow flag incident,” Najia Bounaim, North Africa campaigns director at Amnesty, said in a statement.

“The scale of the latest arrests highlights how dangerously entrenched homophobia is within the country. Instead of stepping up arrests and carrying out anal examinations, the authorities must urgently halt this ruthless crackdown and release all those arrested immediately and unconditionally.”

The group that played in the Sept. 22 concert — Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila whose lead singer is openly gay – condemned the crackdown in a statement posted on its Facebook page Tuesday.

Calling it a witch hunt, it said all those detained must be released and international pressure put on Egyptian authorities to halt the crackdown.

— With files from Reuters and the Associated Press

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