According to news reports, the arrests of 33 people in Egypt after an LGBTQ+ rainbow flag was waved at a concert in Cairo. The band? Mashrou’ Leila. The lead vocalist? An openly gay man.
While discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community in the Middle East may come as no surprise, these arrests have sparked huge debate over the treatment of gay people globally. Homosexuality is not actually illegal in Egypt, however it is hugely looked down upon in the majorly conservative region and arrests for “debauchery” and “promoting sexual deviancy” are not uncommon. Updated information on this story in particular is hard to access but what is known is that a verdict for the 16 men being tried is due on the 29th October, with one man having already been given a six year sentence. It is thought that detainees are forced to undergo humiliating and dehumanising anal examinations; such blatant disregard for the human rights of these men led to condemnation from Najia Bounaim (Amnesty International’s North Africa Campaigns director), who argued that “the scale of the latest arrests highlights how dangerously entrenched homophobia is within the country”.
It’s this comment that truly epitomises the depth of the issue. It is not enough to simply express concern about what’s going on or to declare “allyship” whenever it happens to appear on our Twitter timelines – we must tackle homophobia head-on every single time it rears its ugly head and especially when the media suddenly chooses to fall silent. In fact, things have gone fairly quiet recently when it comes to what’s going on in Chechnya. Reports of ‘gay concentration camps’ first arose in April this year with at least 100 gay men allegedly having been arrested and three killed (with many more said to have been murdered in “state-encouraged honour killings”). Survivors have claimed that they were tortured and interrogated by officials and Maxim Lapunov, the first man to publicly disclose his own torture, confessed to being held and beaten in a basement for twelve days. One victim, speaking to the Guardian, also spoke of archaic electric shock torture being used. Although security services and sources from Kremlin have denied any such ‘purges’, it was only three months ago that Ramzan Kadyrov (Head of the Chechen Republic) openly expressed his own blatant homophobia with the statement: “we don’t have those kind of people here. We don’t have any gays. If there are any taken them to Canada. Praise be to God. Take them far from us so we don’t have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them”.
Yet again those in power have been able to exploit their authority in order to dictate the oppression and discrimination of minority groups, this time the LGBTQ+ community. It can be incredibly disheartening to turn on the news or to open up social media only to see yet another story that lists the continued abuse of the most basic human right – the principle of non-discrimination. But it is because of this that we have to continue speaking up, whether that be if you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community or especially if you’re an ally.
When it comes to human rights and basic humane treatment, we cannot stand by and watch as innocent people suffer at the hands of extremely conservative governments who have so little care for their citizens.
There are plenty of charities and organisations that work to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people around the world and we at LAPP are no strangers to raising awareness about an issue as poignant as this. To help you out when it comes to speaking up, we’ve created a shortlist of places to donate to and outlets that can keep you up-to date on the recent incidents in Egypt and Chechnya:
Please don’t ever be afraid to seek advice and help if you feel that your rights are being threatened. In the meantime, while up-to-date articles can be hard to find, we can and must all do better to keep speaking out in the face of injustice. Only then can we expect to see true societal shifts.
Written by Ella Nevill