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Thu 13 Mar 2008 02:12 AM

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Egypt slammed over HIV crackdown

Misguided prosecutions reveal official ignorance and prejudice about HIV, says Human Rights Watch.

The Egyptian government’s prosecution of men it accuses of being HIV positive violates their basic rights and deeply undermines the country’s fight against AIDS, rights groups said Wednesday.

Cairo prosecutors handed down indictments against five men on March 4 on charges of the “habitual practice of debauchery,” a term used to prosecute consensual sexual acts between men.

A lawyer for the defendants was told by the lead prosecutor the men should not be allowed to “roam the streets freely”, because the government considered them a “danger to public health”.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called on Egyptian officials to quash the indictments and overturn the convictions of four others who were sentenced in February to one-year prison terms.

“These misguided prosecutions reveal official ignorance and prejudice about HIV,” said Joseph Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS programme at the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“Prosecuting people for their HIV status will frighten Egyptians from seeking treatment for HIV/AIDS, or information about prevention,” he added.

The five are among 12 men detained on grounds of HIV since October 2007 in a widening police crackdown.

Their lawyers claim they were beaten and subjected to abusive and intrusive physical examinations by police officers before being tested for HIV without their consent.

Those who tested positive were confined to hospitals for weeks and chained to their beds before an international outcry forced the Ministry of Health and Population to order the removal of their shackles.