In this 2001 file photo, 52 men are rounded up and accused of charges related to homosexual acts in Egypt. (Photo: Norbert Schiller/Getty Images)
A court in Egypt is being condemned by human rights groups around the world after four men were handed multi-year sentences Monday for committing homosexual acts.
Homosexuality and homosexual acts aren't illegal in Egypt — but prohibitions on other activities, such as "debauchery," have been used to try homosexuals, the BBC reports.
In this specific case, the men were accused of attending "deviant" sex parties and dressing in women's clothes. Three of the men were sentenced to eight years in prison, and the fourth to three years. The specific law they were tried under, Law 10/1961, was actually enacted to combat prostitution, but also punishes anyone who "habitually engages in debauchery."
"We are alarmed and disappointed to hear of the verdict convicting these men based on their sexual orientation and identity," Shawn Gaylord, counsel with the U.S.-based NGO Human Rights First, said in a statement. "Egypt is a bellwether state in the Arab region; what happens in Egypt sets a trend for developments throughout the Arab world."
Human Rights First also alleges that in the months since president Mohammed Morsi was ousted last July, arrests of members of the country's LGBT community have increased.
Despite this uptick in enforcement, many activists have complained that a real kind of sexual crime in Egypt — sexual assault — remains rampant, and under-prosecuted in the country, especially in the mass protests that have rocked Cairo since the beginning of the 2011 revolution. On one night alone in 2013, during the protests surrounding the ouster of Morsi, more than 80 women were subject to mob sexual assaults, reports the Guardian.
In a feature on what she calls "Egypt's sexual assault epidemic," Al Jazeera's Bel Trew argues that the problem has deep roots that go back beyond the current turmoil. "In fact, a study by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women released in April reported that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment, while 96.5 percent have been subject to harassment in the form of touching," Trew writes.
But despite these alarming statistics, Trew describes a "culture of impunity" where assailants rarely face charges for their action.