From the time of writing this article, Valentines day is officially two weeks away, and February marks LGBTQ+ History Month. Here in the UK, we are lucky to be able to love and find romance with all of the freedom possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same everywhere. Today I am going to discuss how Egyptian police and gangs are currently using online dating apps to hunt down and arrest LGBTQ+ people.
In Egypt, homosexuality is stigmatised, but there is no explicit law against it. Nonetheless, the crime of ‘debauchery’ (a sex work law) is being used to criminalise the LGBTQ+ community.
How Egyptian Police Are Going Undercover To Catch LGBTQ+ Members
Transcripts submitted in police arrest reports show how some officers have allegedly gone as far as fabricating evidence against LGBTQ+ people in order to criminalise them.
From further research, I found a text conversation sourced from the BBC that took place on a dating app, WhosHere, between an undercover police officer and an app user. This app user was later arrested:
police: have you slept with men before?
police: how about we meet?
anonymous: but I live with mom and dad
police: come on dear, don’t be shy, we can meet in public and then go to my flat
Simply the use of dating apps, whether you are part of the LGBTQ+ community or not, can be enough for grounds of arrest based on debauchery or public morality laws in Egypt.
Another example reports a foreign app user on Grindr ‘sen[ding] pictures of himself and his body’, which subsequently led to his arrest and with him being charged and deported.
In April of 2018, a contemporary dancer was contacted from a ‘friends’ phone, asking to meet. However, when the dancer arrived he was met with police who threw him in a cell and stubbed a cigarette out on his arm. The police then allegedly made a fake profile for him on WhosHere, digitally altering his photos to make them explicit to make themselves appear as a sex worker, possibly to hunt down more LGBTQ+ community members.
The WhosHere app is referenced in nearly every police transcript that my source, the BBC, has access to. It has been reported that the app has the vulnerabilities of allowing hackers to gain private information about its users, and that they are collecting and storing data that is likely in breach of UK & EU privacy laws.
Criminal Gangs and Their Involvement With The LBGTQ+ Community
Criminal gangs are using the same tactics as the undercover police; attacking, humiliating and extorting them by threatening to post videos of the attacks online.
A few years ago, a viral video shows two people being forced to strip and dance at knife point, having to state their full names and admit that they are gay. The duo behind the video, named Bakar and Yehia, are said to be notorious amongst the community.
The criminal duo have been seen or heard in at least four videos, uploading videos to Whatsapp, YouTube and Facebook. When a video of an 18-year-old reached his family, he was cut off from them and has ‘been suffering from depression’ since. The anonymous victim claims ‘I don’t go out, and I don’t have a phone.’
Shockingly, one gang member – Yahia – is gay and actively posts online about his own sex work.
In 2017, the country’s Supreme Council for Media Regulation imposed a media blackout on LGBT representation, meaning that covering any of these issues mentions is now banned.
Personally, I want to thank the people that broke silence about this issue and spread awareness. I think it is really important for a more privileged group, such as us, to understand the danger others are in. I hope you all have a good Valentines Day and LGBTQ+ History Month, enjoy it for those that can’t.