Egypt court upholds 'debauchery' conviction amid anti-gay campaign

Homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, but the conservative government has taken aim at gay people nonetheless

An Egyptian appeals court on Saturday upheld the conviction of eight men convicted last month of "debauchery" amid an increasingly harsh government campaign against homosexuality, though the court reduced the men's three-year prison terms to one year, state media reported.

Homosexuality in itself is not illegal in Egypt, but the government of President Abdel Fattah Sisi, already engaged in a months-long crackdown on both secular and Islamist political opponents, has moved to promote conservative social mores by taking aim at groups such as gays and atheists.

The defendants had been convicted based on a video, widely distributed on social media, that appeared to show two men exchanging rings aboard a Nile party boat in what the prosecution described as a same-sex engagement ceremony.

This month, police carried out a highly publicized raid on a Cairo bathhouse, with television video showing half-naked men trying to cover their faces as they were dragged away. That case quickly became notorious because of a private television station's role in orchestrating the police raid.

Suspected homosexuals are usually charged with offenses such as public lewdness, and dozens of prosecutions — decried by rights groups — have been carried out this year.

The anti-gay campaign, popular among pious elements in both Muslim and Christian communities, comes as Sisi's government has imposed harsh restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly that rival or surpass repression under longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak.

With thousands already behind bars, the government has shown no sign of restoring basic liberties, despite urging from human rights groups and Western governments.

After the July 2013 military coup that toppled deeply unpopular Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, more than 1,000 of the deposed president's supporters were killed in street clashes with security forces. Months later, the government in effect banned protests, and began targeting secular critics, including journalists, academics and activists, as well as Islamists.

On Saturday, Egyptian state media reported that a well-known writer had been referred for prosecution on charges of insulting Islam after she publicly criticized the practice of slaughtering livestock to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice.

laura.king@latimes.com

@laurakingLAT

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