Sarah Hegazy has been jailed, beaten by inmates, and could face a life sentence in an Egyptian prison if found guilty of “promoting sexual deviancy” and other charges tied to her alleged crime: waving a rainbow flag at a concert.
The 28-year-old denies waving the flag but is one of 57 people arrested so far in Egypt’s widest anti-gay crackdown yet, a
swift zero-tolerance response to a rare show of public support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the conservative Muslim country.
The crackdown comes as Egypt, a key Western ally in the Middle East, is under fire for its human rights record and the United States has withheld some of its $1.3 billion in annual military aid.
Hegazy, the only woman rounded up in the three-week-old campaign, says police goaded her cellmates to abuse her during her first night in prison, where she is being detained for 15 days and interrogated by special prosecutors who usually focus on Islamist militants.
“This is the game they (police) always play, especially since she is a girl. They incite the other detainees and say ‘this girl wants men and women to be gay’ so they harass her. I saw scratches on her shoulder, she looked very disheveled and exhausted. She was beaten,” said Hegazy’s lawyer Hoda Nasralla.
A security official would not comment on Hegazy’s case but denied that police incite prisoners against each other or otherwise mistreat them.
Lawyers for other detainees said their clients faced similar treatment. Suspected gay male detainees are subject to forced anal exams to determine if they have had homosexual sex, a procedure human rights groups say amounts to torture.
At least five such examinations have taken place, Amnesty International says. Judicial sources do not deny the examinations take place but say they are legally carried out and are not a form of abuse.
Police, state-aligned media, and the religious establishment all see it as a public duty to combat the spread of homosexuality.
Ten men have already gone on trial during the recent sweep and received jail sentences from one to six years.
But the recent developments underscore an existing reality for gay Egyptians: they are in constant physical danger.
“I don’t feel comfortable just being myself. We’re not talking about gay rights here, no one is calling for marriage equality, we face the possibility of jail and humiliation for merely existing,” said one 25-year-old gay man.