Mona Iraqi, the infamous journalist who helped coordinate a raid on a public bathhouse that led to the arrest and trial of 26 men on charges of debauchery, was found innocent of any wrongdoing by a Cairo appeals court on Tuesday, reported the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Iraqi had been previously sentenced to six months in prison and issued a fine of LE1,600 for her involvement in what became known as the “Ramses Bathhouse” case on charges of defamation and spreading false news.
Iraqi had filmed and coordinated a raid on the Ramses bathhouse with police, leading to the arrest of 26 men on charges of public indecency and debauchery. She was the presenter of the TV “Al-Mestakhabi” (The Hidden) at the time, which broadcast on the privately-owned Al-Qahera wal Nas channel, and claimed on her Facebook page that she and her crew had discovered “a den of illegal gay sex workers.”
Iraqi also posted almost-naked pictures of the men without blurring their faces as they were arrested in bathhouse by the police. She alleged on Facebook that the bathhouse was a popular place for Egyptian and foreign gay men. She also accused the 60-year-old manager of the bathhouse of running an illegal sex ring.
The men were all later found innocent, following public outrage at the incident from both social media users and human rights activists, who called the incident a blatant violation of personal rights and accused Iraqi of destroying the reputations of the men whose pictures she posted publicly. The defendants then moved to file a defamation case against Iraqi, leading to her original six-month sentence.
The defendants in the case were subjected to physical examinations in an attempt to prove they had engaged in homosexual activity. These tests have been internationally condemned by rights groups, including Human Rights Watch.
Tarek al-Awady, a lawyer representing the Ramses Bathhouse victims, stated that he did not understand the appeal court’s decision. “They still haven’t published the reasoning for the court’s decision. The were many legal reasons to sentence her to six months in the first decision. We can take the appropriate steps once we get the reasoning,” he told Mada Masr.
He continued to state that this is not the end of the case and that they will appeal to the public prosecutor and ask him to revisit the ruling.
Dalia Abdel Hameed, head of the gender program at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), told Mada Masr that one of the men arrested in the bathhouse case attempted to commit suicide because of the social stigma caused by public perception that he was gay.
Abdel Hameed stated that she was very disappointed by the appeal court’s verdict. “I haven’t seen the ruling itself, but it’s so disappointing. The damage she did to the families and the people who were arrested in that case, does it need any clearer proof? The huge social stigma, that pushed one of them to try to commit suicide, what else needs to be there for the judge to be convinced there was harm and this woman is not innocent at all?” she asked.
Although homosexuality is not technically criminalized under the Penal Code, there has been ongoing crackdown against LGBT individuals in Egypt, with people sentenced under charges ranging from debauchery to “violating the teachings of religion.”
Scott Long, a gay rights activist and the author of the Paper Bird Blog, told Mada Masr that arrests of LGBT individuals are still ongoing and that there approximately two arrests per month at this point, with police relying more on the internet to track and arrest LGBT individuals.
Long told Mada Masr that he was not surprised by today’s verdict, saying that Iraqi “was obviously doing the bidding of the police and the regime when she organized these arrests.”
“The public outrage forced them to engage in some token punishment of her rather than the people who actually conducted the arrest. But it’s natural that once the token punishment has been administered that she would suffer no real consequences. No one will suffer any real consequences, the only people who are suffering consequences are the guys who were arrested, whose lives have been destroyed,” he explained.
The privately owned Youm7 reported at the beginning of January that 11 men were arrested for “homosexuality” and that their trial has been delayed until January 24. The Facebook page Solidarity with Egypt LGBT, which advocates for the LGBT community in Egypt and spreads awareness about the ongoing crackdown, posted in January that approximately 172 LGBT individuals have been arrested between October 2013 and December 2015, according to media reports.
In an interview with the privately owned Youm7 on Monday, Iraqi stated that she did not regret airing the Ramses Bathhouse episode despite everything that followed.