Dozens of men were arrested on “perversion” charges in a bathhouse in downtown Cairo’s Ramses area on Sunday, according to broadcast journalist Mona Iraqi, who filmed the security raid.
Iraqi, a presenter on “Al-Mestakhabi” (The Hidden), an investigative journalism show that broadcasts on the privately owned channel Al-Qahera wal Nas, wrote on her Facebook page that she and her team had been investigating the bathhouse, alleging it was a “den of illegal gay sex workers.”
“Today is one of Al-Mestakhabi’s good days — we have to share with you a new and big victory for the program. Al-Mestakhabi managed to shut down a den of group sex for men, and they were all arrested red-handed,” she wrote.
“Success is great and achieving goals are greater,” she added.
Iraqi also posted photos showing dozens of almost-naked men being arrested in the public bathhouse, which she alleged was a popular site for both Egyptian and foreign gay men. She further accused the 60-year-old manager of running a sex ring.
Al-Mestakhabi reporters secretly infiltrated the bathhouse and filmed what Iraqi described as “gay sex parties,” as well as the owner’s “confessions.”
The owner of the bathhouse had kicked Iraqi and her team out of his establishment before security forces conducted the raid.
The first episode on the investigation was to be aired next week, but Iraqi claimed the broadcast would be postponed “to give police forces the chance to raid the bathhouse and arrest those involved.”
Human rights activists and social media users took to the Internet to lambaste Iraqi’s Facebook report, decrying the journalist’s cooperation with police forces as a flagrant violation of citizens’ personal rights.
Homosexuality is not a crime according to the Egyptian Penal Code, and furthermore, Iraqi did not prove any prostitution had occurred in the bathhouse, rights activist Sherif Azer wrote in response to Iraqi’s post.
Responding to the attacks, Iraqi claimed that the investigation was part of her program’s work on social groups that are most vulnerable to AIDS, as International AIDS Awareness Day was December 3.
“In case of public indecency, it has to be done in public. Is the bathhouse a public place? What are the accusations you presented to the prosecution so that they are arrested? If they [the detained men] are really patients of AIDS, they should be treated as patients not criminals and given proper medical support even if it is contagious. Do you accept seeing one of your family members who has a serious disease to be arrested naked by police?” Azer continued.
Others questioned Iraqi’s ethics and journalistic reputation given her cooperation with the police.
“The airing of the two-episodes investigation was adjourned for human, ethical and security reasons, and all the incident’s inside affairs shall be aired in a third episode. We did our work with the highest levels of professionalism and accuracy, and we urge the public not to judge the episodes positively or negatively before watching them,” Iraqi defended herself in a statement released on Monday.
But internet commentators continued to castigate the journalist, accusing her of heedlessly destroying the reputation of the arrested men — whose faces appeared in the photos she posted on her Facebook page — in her pursuit of fame.
US-based rights activist Scott Long blogged about the incident in his blog, the Paper Bird, and suggested the possibility of a government-sponsored campaign against gay rights.
“What’s clear is that another pro-Sisi media organ is working in close collusion with security forces, to produce a sensational show about sex with appalling and terrifying images, to invade privacy and engorge the prisons and destroy innocent people’s lives,” he wrote.
Long highlighted another recent incident in which eight men appearing in a video that allegedly portrayed a gay marriage ceremony were sentenced to three years in prison on charges of perversion.
“This message about ‘networks’ is a menacing constant. Egypt’s powers-that-be treat homosexuality and gender dissidence as political, and — like any kind of politics under an ever more constricting dictatorship — conspiratorial and sinister,” Long added.