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Egyptian authorities have banned the media from “any promotion of homosexuality” following a series of anti-LGBTQ raids in the Muslim nation.

Calling homosexuality a “shameful disease,” the Supreme Council for Media Regulation prohibited local news programs and media publications from expressing support for Egypt’s queer and trans population. Homosexuals, the council argued, should only appear on television to express repentance.

SCMR President Makram Mohamed Ahmed said the media’s role should be to combat the spread of homosexuality by putting forward the “right values.”

“Egyptian media outlets should highlight the hazards of spreading such a phenomenon, the recent promotional campaigns that support the LGBTQ presence in Egypt tried to categorize the LGBTQ presence as a kind of human rights,” Ahmed claimed in a statement. “This is not real, as homosexuality contradicts with humanity and religions.”

The statement was released following a number of recent incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted by Egyptian police.

At least 22 people were arrested on Sept. 22 at a concert for the alternative rock band Mashrou’ Leila after attendees held up a Pride flag in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. The Lebanese music group’s lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is openly gay. Police reportedly used security footage and social media posts to identify the parties holding the flag.

Although homosexuality is legal in Egypt, authorities frequently exploit the existing legal framework to target queer and trans people.

In the late ‘90s, police began to target LGBTQ individuals for violating the prohibition against “debauchery,” a 1961 law that’s vague enough to be applied to any behavior the local government doesn’t like. Fifty-two gay men were charged under the ordinance in 2001 when law enforcement officials raided a gay club called the Queen Boat.

One of the flag holders apprehended at the Mashrou’ Leila concert has already been convicted and sentenced. At a Sept. 26 trial, he received six years in prison and six additional years of probation.
 
The defendant did not have access to a lawyer, as Human Rights Watch claims.  

Of the 22 people arrested in September, 17 are currently being tried in Cairo’s Azbakia Misdemeanour Court for what authorities claim is “incitement to debauchery.” Proceedings began Sunday. Details are scant on the trial, which is closed to the media, but a verdict is set to be reached on October 29.

Detainees were forced to undergo anal examinations to verify their homosexuality, as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report. Human rights groups have likened the practice to torture.  

These groups have called for LGBTQ prisoners to be released.

“Whether they were waving a rainbow flag, chatting on a dating app, or minding their own business in the streets, all these debauchery arrest victims should be immediately released,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division, in a press release. “The Egyptian government, by rounding people up based on their presumed sexual orientation, is showing flagrant disregard for their rights.”

“The fact that Egypt’s public prosecutor is prioritizing hunting down people based on their perceived sexual orientation is utterly deplorable,” added Amnesty International in a statement.

Human Rights Watch estimates that 34 people have been jailed for violating the debauchery law in the past year and hundreds more have been imprisoned since 2014, when President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took office. His regime has been noted for its repressive treatment of the LGBTQ community, which has forced numerous queer and trans people into hiding.

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