Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Egypt: New Indictments in HIV Crackdown; Persecuting People Living with HIV/AIDS Feeds the Epidemic

From March 10, 2008


Egypt: New Indictments in HIV Crackdown
Persecuting People Living With HIV/AIDS Feeds the Epidemic

(New York, March 11, 2008) – The Egyptian government's new indictments against several men arrested apparently on suspicion of having HIV violate their basic rights and deeply undermine Egypt's fight against HIV/AIDS, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called on Egyptian officials to quash the indictments and overturn the convictions of four others who were sentenced in February 2008 to one-year prison terms.  
On March 4, 2008, Cairo prosecutors handed down indictments against five men on charges of "habitual practice of debauchery," a term used under Egyptian law to prosecute consensual sexual acts between men. One of them faces an additional charge of facilitating the practice of debauchery for the other men. The trial date is set for March 12. The charges were dropped for three other men.  
Before issuing the indictment, the lead prosecutor told a lawyer for the defendants that the men should not be allowed to "roam the streets freely" because the government considered them "a danger to public health."  
"These misguided prosecutions reveal official ignorance and prejudice about HIV," said Joseph Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS Program at Human Rights Watch. "Prosecuting people for their HIV serostatus will frighten Egyptians from seeking treatment for HIV/AIDS, or information about prevention."  
The five indicted men are among 12 men detained on grounds of HIV since October 2007, in what appears to be a widening police crackdown. According to human rights activists in Cairo, police arrested the first two men after stopping them during an altercation in the street, when one told police officers that he was HIV-positive. The defendants' lawyers told Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that officers detained both men, beat them and subjected them to abusive and intrusive physical examinations, trying to prove they had engaged in homosexual conduct. They then arrested other men whose names or personal information were found in the two men's possession.  
According to the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), doctors from Egypt's Ministry of Health and Population subjected all 12 detainees to HIV tests without their consent. Authorities kept those who tested HIV-positive confined in hospitals for weeks. They were chained to their beds until February 25, when the ministry ordered them unchained after domestic and international outcry.  
The case files of the five indicted men included the results of forced anal examinations, which are not only medically spurious but constitute torture. The results indicate that they were inconclusive, not revealing any sexual activity, but contained a standard caveat that it is possible to engage in anal sex without leaving any traces. The case files also contained the results of the compulsory HIV tests. Four of the five men tested HIV-positive. The three men whose charges were dropped tested HIV-negative.  
The prosecutor's office detained two of the five men beyond the 90-day limit in Egyptian law.  
"These men have been treated as if they are a national threat simply because four of them were found to be HIV-positive," said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme. "The authorities should not be prosecuting them, but rather investigating the abuse and ill-treatment meted out against them and taking steps to ensure that such abuse does not happen again."  
Four of the 12 men known to have been arrested in the HIV crackdown since October 2007 have already been sentenced to prison terms. On January 13, 2008, a Cairo court convicted them of the "habitual practice of debauchery," imprisoning all four for one year. An appeals court confirmed their sentences on February 2.  
The imprisonment of individuals for actual or alleged consensual same-sex relations between adults is a serious violation of human rights. The Egyptian law used to prosecute adult consensual same-sex sexual conduct violates protections for privacy and against discrimination in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The UN Human Rights Committee holds that both sexual orientation and HIV serostatus are grounds protected against discrimination under the ICCPR's provisions. Individuals held solely on the basis of alleged consensual same-sex relations between adults in private are victims of arbitrary detention who should be released immediately and unconditionally.  
The use of the Egyptian law on "debauchery," both to detain people on the basis of their declared or suspected HIV status and to subject them to HIV tests without their consent, also violates those international protections and the prohibition of arbitrary detention.  


Related Material

More of Human Rights Watch's work on Egypt
Country Page

More of Human Rights Watch's work on LGBT Rights
Thematic Page

Egypt: Spreading Crackdown on HIV Endangers Public Health
Press Release, February 15, 2008

In a Time of Torture: The Assault on Justice In Egypt's Crackdown on Homosexual Conduct
Report, March 1, 2004


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Friday, March 7, 2008

HIV and Gay in Tunisia: A Twin Taboo

From Reuters - March 7, 2008

TUNIS (Reuters Life!) - Homosexual men living with HIV/AIDS In the Arab world face a twin taboo, but Karim doesn't look like someone burdened by stigma.

Smiling and self-assured, the healthy looking Tunisian says his peace of mind comes from accepting what he cannot change, living in the moment and taking care to present a normal face to the world.

The 34-year-old draws the menace from his infection by seeing it as his offspring.

"Personally, I accept the illness. I consider the virus my little baby. Together, we make up the same person," he said.

Dressed in jeans and a V-neck pullover, Karim sounds matter-of-act about his condition, but acknowledges that it wasn't always so easy.

Karim first learned he had HIV when he returned to his native country from France in 2005. He was infected during an eight-year relationship with a French man.

"First, I thought I had flu. But my health kept worsening and analysis showed I had AIDS. A person who was so important to me had infected me," he said.


"At the beginning, I was furious. I hated everything. But afterwards, I thought that it's better to be hopeful than crying."

He decided to face up to the illness, sensing that a positive mental attitude would translate into stronger physical health. Also, he is on anti-retroviral medication.

"I'm quite good. My health situation is stable. HIV-positives who can't move or even walk are people who refuse the fact that they're infected with HIV. They suffer because they're in very low spirits and not because of the virus."

"I have a principle in my life which says we must make the most of life while we still have its advantages. So, I still enjoy my life. I consider AIDS a flu."

He lives with his Tunisian boyfriend, who is uninfected. They have protected sex.

"I was sincere. I told him the truth and he accepted. His attitude really moved me," said Karim.


Unlike most Tunisians, Karim refuses to draw up plans for his future, even in the short-term, as he doesn't know when AIDS will bring his life to an end.

"I can't do long-term projects. I can't even plan for the summer holidays. I think just about what I can do in the next week and enjoy the moment."

HIV/AIDS is a common topic of conversation widely discussed in many Western countries. But it is still an invisible disease in north Africa and many other parts of the world.

Karim, one of 1,428 Tunisians who live with HIV, has learnt to keep his status a tightly guarded secret in a society where fear, prejudice and ignorance about the disease prevail.

Seventy new cases are declared per year in the North African country, according to official figures.

HIV-positive people who become known as such are shunned by society.

"To live in Tunisia, people infected with HIV have to lie and never say they suffer from AIDS," he said.

"I told my boss, because he's French. If I told a Tunisian about that he'd have a cardiac arrest," said Karim.

"I hate the Tunisian way of thinking. They present themselves as open-mind people and cultured. But it's just a mask," he said.

"In reality, they still think they can be infected via the air."

Worlds AIDS Day in Muslim Countries