Eight Egyptian men arrested four days ago for the "practice of debauchery" are likely to remain in jail for some time and could be subjected to torture, a local underground human-rights group has warned.
The men, arrested in Damanhour, near Egypt's coastal city of Alexandria--while allegedly wearing make-up and night-wear, and engaging in "debauchery"--were due to be freed Wednesday, according to a public prosecutor quoted Monday in the independent Egyptian newspaper Al-Wafd.
After an initial period of incommunicado detention, they are now expected to be held in custody for further questioning.
Although they will have access to legal representation, reports that they underwent intrusive medical examinations have prompted fears that authorities may be violating a United Nations anti-torture treaty, which Egypt has ratified.
"Other men arrested on similar charges in the past have been tortured and we are expecting the same to happen this time," says "Horus," an Egyptian human rights worker forced to operate anonymously to avoid arrest.
International human rights bodies also fear that last Saturday's round-up may form part of a wider crackdown on sexual minorities.
There is a "steadily growing pattern of persecution", claims the United States-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), citing a controversial trial in Cairo last year which found 23 out of 52 defendants guilty of "obscene behavior" and sentenced them to five years' hard labor.
The so-called 'Cairo 52' were also accused of practicing debauchery, a charge normally brought against sex workers, but increasingly used against those involved in consensual homosexual behavior.
Human rights campaigners say the chances of a fair trial next week, in another similar case, are slim after the judge opened the hearing by demanding the khawalat--a derogatory term for homosexuals--be brought into court.
They are calling on the government of President Hosni Mubarak to stop the arrests.
"Enough is enough!" says IGLHRC program director Scott Long. "The government of Egypt must stop these arrests. Too many people are sitting in jail whose only crime is to be suspected of homosexuality."
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