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Gay trial opens in Egypt

Two defendents hide their faces with towels on their way into the court room
Two defendents hide their faces with towels on their way into the court room  

CAIRO, Egypt -- A trial of 52 men accused of homosexuality under Egyptian public morality laws has opened in a Cairo state security court.

Some defendents entered the courtroom covering their faces with towels, while female relatives lashed out against journalists for taking photographs of the men.

The case has received wide media coverage locally and has caused controversy in Egypt, where homosexuality is considered a sin, and human rights groups have protested against the arrests.

The accused men shouted and protested as the prosecutor read the charges.

All the defendents pleaded not guilty to the charges and some quoted Islamic verses to protest their innocence.

Two were accused of religious offences and others with debauchery and practising sexual immorality

They were arrested on May 11 on a Nile river boat restaurant, said to be a popular gay venue.

Police originally said they were having a gay sex party, but prosecutors later said the group was meeting with a self-styled preacher, The Associated Press reported.

The judge set the next trial session for August 15, when defence lawyers will begin their arguments.

Egyptian law does not explicitly refer to homosexuality, but laws covering obscenity and public morality are punishable by law.

Prosecutor Ashraf Hilal told the state security court that Sherif Farhat and Mahmoud Ahmed Allam are charged with contempt of religion, falsely interpreting the Koran and exploiting Islam to promote deviant ideas. They were also charged with immoral behaviour.

Contempt of religion is punishable by up to a five year jail sentence, the debauchery offence carries a minimum sentence of three years.

"We only want mercy," cried one defendant. "We've been detained without any evidence against us," yelled another.

Many of the defendants claimed they were not on the boat during the police raid.

The mother of one defendant told Reuters news agency: "This is ridiculous. All he did was to be in the bar when they (police) rounded everyone up. He is really suffering in detention."

Khadiga Ramadan, the mother of another defendant, told AP she had read the charges against her son in the newspapers. "By God, he is not involved in this," she said.

The case follows a string of publicised incidents involving homosexuality in the past year, including reports of gay soliciting on the Internet, which prompted one newspaper to call for the death penalty for homosexuals.

• Egypt State Information Service

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