Egypt's police 'using social media and apps like Grindr to trap gay people'

LGBT activists and groups in Egypt warn members not to use GPS-tracking applications or social media that can be monitored by the authorities

Natasha Culzac
Wednesday 17 September 2014 18:08
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Egyptian authorities are allegedly using social media and mobile phone apps to hunt gay people
Egyptian authorities are allegedly using social media and mobile phone apps to hunt gay people

Egyptian police are using dating apps such as Grindr to track and arrest gay people, it has been claimed.

Though homosexuality itself is not illegal in Egypt, public homosexual acts are and gay citizens “have been convicted for breaching laws on public decency,” advice from Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office states.

Officials clamping down on what it considers to be breaches of morality have in some cases resulted in the arrest and torture of those suspected of engaging in homosexual activity, who face allegations of immorality or blasphemy.

According to a report on France24, the country’s police have resorted to social media and GPS-enabled applications to locate gay and lesbian civilians.

LGBT activists in Egypt now warn the community to avoid travelling to places under surveillance or using technology that can be monitored by the authorities.

One underground campaigner, known as Samia A, is quoted in the piece as saying: “Since October 2013, there has been a real manhunt for gay people in Egypt.

“The police aren’t just targeting well-known gay hangouts, they are increasingly raiding homes when they think there is an LGBT party going on.

“I think the new intensity of this repression is tied to the political situation in Egypt. Since President [Abdel Fattah el-Sisi] came to power, he has wanted to show Egyptians that he is as conservative as the ousted Muslim Brotherhood.”

Samia said that the support group offers help to an LGBT person when they're arrested and contacts lawyers who’d be able to help.

“We also tell [our members] to be careful, to not give out personal information online and to avoid any applications that use geolocalisation like Grindr, Hornit, Scruff, Gay Dating, etc,” Samia added.

The claims come in the same month that seven men were detained and given forensic anal examinations for allegedly “inciting debauchery”, after a video emerged online showing the men at a same-sex wedding on a Nile riverboat. Gay marriage is not legal in Egypt.

They were arrested on 6 September with the government announcing that the broadcasting of the footage – it having been uploaded to YouTube – violated “public decency” and was described as a “devilish shameless party”.

Prosecutors then pressed for investigators to send them to trial promptly so as to “protect social values and mete out justice”, reported the Associated Press at the time.

Human Rights Watch called for the release of the men and censured the move as an “assault on fundamental human rights [which reflects] the Egyptian government’s growing disdain for the rule of law.”

A screenshot of the Grindr app

A study by the Pew Research Centre earlier this year displayed global attitudes on morality – finding that 95 per cent of Egyptians believe homosexuality to be unacceptable.

Travel guides also warn LGBT tourists of the dangers of being detained. Frommer’s tells travellers: “Cases of entrapment followed by detention and torture are regularly documented by human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch.

“Websites such as www.gayegypt.com are routinely monitored by the security services, and chat groups are used to set up fake meetings.”

Another anonymous source who spoke to France24, a 20-year-old student from Gizeh near Cairo said that he no longer uses applications to meet people.

“Undercover police agents use the applications to set up meetings with gays in cafes. It’s a trap. About a week ago, a friend of mine was arrested in this way in Cairo.

“I still haven’t heard from him. When I tried to call his parents, they claimed he was visiting family in another city. I’m scared he’ll be tortured or raped. Moreover, he’s a fragile person and the police could force him to name other gays… like me, for example.”

The CEO of Index on Censorship, Jodie Ginsberg, said people should be able to live their lives without fearing discrimination.

“This is another worrying example of the way in which governments are using social media applications to spy on the activities of citizens and then punish them,” she said.

Grindr told The Independent: “We monitor and review all reports of security issues regularly. As such, we continue to evaluate and make ongoing changes as necessary to protect our users.”

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