Police in Egypt are accused of using dating apps and social media to track down and arrest queer folks in their latest attempt to “clean the streets.” Human Rights Watch interviewed 15 people who say they were arrested, detained, and tortured by Egyptian police and National Security Agency officers because they are LGBTQ+, and some said the authorities used Grindr, Facebook, and WhatsApp to catch them. Their claims are nothing short of horrific.
Those interviewed all told similar stories of bogus arrests on charges of debauchery, prostitution, selling alcohol, or joining a terrorist group among others. Once in custody, they say they were subjected to days and sometimes months of abuse such as forced anal and vaginal “virginity” tests, beatings, rape, and sexual assault.
“Egyptian authorities seem to be competing for the worst record on rights violations against LGBT people in the region, while the international silence is appalling,” Rasha Younes, an LGBT rights researcher for HRW, said in a statement.
Yasser, 27, said he was arrested when he went to meet a man he had chatted with on Grindr. (All the names used here are pseudonyms to protect the safety of those interviewed.) Following his arrest, he was taken to a “morality ward” where he was “surprised to see the guy I met on Grindr” as one of the officers. He said authorities proceeded to interrogate and then beat him until he signed a paper saying he was guilty of “practicing debauchery.”
Others told even more disturbing stories of abuse and torture while in custody. Salim, 25, said he was tied hand and foot and then for forced to stand for three days straight. “I had to wet my clothes and even shit in them.” He remembers police saying he was arrested because they were “cleaning the streets of faggots.”
Alaa, 37, claims he was so brutally raped and beaten in a prior detention that he was left disabled. When he tried to show an officer his disability card during his most recent detention, he claims the man told him to “shove it up his ass.” Alaa thought it was a joke until the man “ordered another officer to insert the card in my ass, which he did. I was praying to God to take me away. I wanted to die.”
HRW notes Egypt is party to several international human rights treaties that specifically forbid abuse due to consensual sexual relations, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and also the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. The recent actions of the authorities also violate Egypt’s own constitution, which prohibits warrantless searches, and guarantees the right to remain silent and have an attorney present during questioning. Torture and confessions obtained under coercion are strictly forbidden.
While most of those interviewed were eventually acquitted, the damage caused by their illegal arrests, detentions, and torture remains.
“My family stopped talking to me, my brother threatened to kill me, I was too afraid to walk on the street,” Yasser lamented. “I lost everything.”