Human rights groups protest at HIV arrests in Egypt

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Cairo police have arrested four more men suspected of having HIV, signaling a wider crackdown that endangers public health and violates basic human rights in Egypt, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today in a joint statement.

The recent arrests bring to 12 the number of men held in a campaign against people police suspect of being HIV-positive.

Four have already been sentenced to a year in jail and eight are still in custody.

The most recent arrests occurred after police used information coerced from men already in detention, according to the Health and Human Rights Programme of the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

Two of the newly detained men tested positive for HIV. One had his detention extended by 15 days at his 12 February court hearing, with the prosecutor and judge both claiming he was a danger to public health. Another has a hearing scheduled for 23 February.

As in all previous cases, authorities forced the new detainees to undergo HIV testing without their consent. All those testing positive have been held in Cairo hospitals, chained to their beds.

Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, said:

“Arbitrary arrests, forcible HIV tests, and physical abuse only add to the disgraceful record of Egypt’s criminal justice system, where torture and ill-treatment are greeted with impunity.”

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also called on Egyptian authorities to respect the men’s human rights and to immediately release them so as not to cause lasting damage to the country’s HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.

Rebecca Schleifer, advocate for the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Programme at Human Rights Watch, said:

“In their misguided attempt to apply Egypt’s unjust law on homosexual conduct, authorities are carrying on a crackdown against people living with HIV/AIDS.

“This not only violates the most basic rights of people living with HIV. It also threatens public health, by making it dangerous for anyone to seek information about HIV prevention or treatment.”

The current wave of arrests began in October 2007, when police intervened between two men having an argument on a street in central Cairo.

When one of them told the officers that he was HIV-positive, police immediately took them both to the Morality Police office and opened an investigation against them for homosexual conduct.

Police demanded the names of their friends and sexual contacts during interrogations.

The two men told lawyers that officers slapped and beat them for refusing to sign statements the police wrote for them.

The men spent four days in the Morality Police office handcuffed to an iron desk, and were left to sleep on the floor.

Police later subjected the two men to forensic anal examinations designed to “prove” that they had engaged in homosexual conduct.

Such forcible examinations to detect “evidence” of homosexuality are not only medically spurious, but also can amount to torture.

Police then arrested two more men because their photographs or telephone numbers were found on the first two detainees.

Authorities subjected all four men to HIV tests without their consent. All four are still in detention, pending prosecutors’ decisions on whether to bring charges of homosexual conduct.

The first two arrestees, who reportedly tested HIV-positive, are still being held in hospital, handcuffed to their beds.

A prosecutor reportedly told one of the men who tested positive for HIV: “People like you should be burnt alive. You do not deserve to live.”