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Egypt condemned for HIV-related arrests

International group calls for end to witchhunt

An international coalition has condemned Egypt over the arbitrary arrests of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Cairo police have jailed 12 men since Oct 2007 in a growing witchhunt for people suspected of being HIV-positive. All of the men were charged with “habitual practice of debauchery” — a term in Egyptian law that includes sex between men.

As five more men face trial Apr 9, over 100 health and human rights organizations have written to the Egyptian Ministry of Health, urging action. The coalition is concerned that doctors shared patient information with police, which may have then been used to prosecute the men.

“Doctors must put patients first, not join a witchhunt driven by prejudice,” says Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS program at Human Rights Watch. He calls on Egyptian doctors to respect patients’ privacy and consent.

The group also calls for police to stop arresting men based on HIV status, for charges against all others to be dropped, and for the repeal of laws against gay sex.

The arrests began when one man — stopped on the street during an altercation last year — told officers he was HIV-positive. Police arrested him and the man with him, and then beat and abused them, reports HRW. Police then interrogated the two men to get the names and contact information of others, sparking an ongoing wave of arrests.

Doctors from the Ministry of Health subjected the detainees to HIV tests without their consent. HRW reports that the men were also subjected to abusive anal exams, and some men claim they were beaten while in detention. One man reports that a prosecuter informed him he was HIV-positive by saying, “People like you should be burnt alive. You do not deserve to live.”

On Jan 13, 2008, a Cairo court convicted four men of the “debauchery” charges and sentenced them to a year in prison. Their sentences were upheld on appeal at a court hearing in Feb.

A handful of Canadian organizations, including the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and a few community-based AIDS service groups, signed the letter.