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Thu 7 Feb 2008 03:01 AM

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Rights group outrage at Egypt HIV torture

HIV positive men arrested, beaten and chained to beds before unfair trials, watchdog says.

Egyptian HIV-positive men are arrested, tortured and chained to hospital beds for 23 hours a day before facing unfair trials for alleged homosexuality, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

The New York-based watchdog documented a series of arrests after two men were detained in October during an altercation on a Cairo street and taken to the so-called Morality Police after one said he was HIV-positive.

The men, whom HRW did not identify, say they were slapped and beaten for refusing to sign statements the police wrote for them, handcuffed to a desk for four days and subjected to forensic anal examinations to "prove" their homosexual conduct.

Human Rights Watch said such examinations constitute torture and are medically spurious.

The two men are still chained to Cairo hospital beds for 23 hours a day pending a decision by prosecutors on whether to charge them with homosexuality, HRW said.

While homosexuality is not included in a list of sexual offences explicitly outlawed by Egypt's Islamic-inspired legislation, it can be punished under several different laws on morality.

Besides facing widespread public prejudice, Egyptian homosexuals have in the past been sentenced to up to five years in prison on charges ranging from "scorning religion" to "sexual practices contrary to Islam."

Police later arrested two more men whose details were on the original detainees' mobile phones, HRW said, adding a further four were arrested and charged with homosexual conduct.

The arrests were solely on the basis that the men were living in a property where one of the detainees had lived. The suspects were beaten, and deprived of food, water and blankets during the first days of their detention.

They were tested for HIV without their consent after which a public prosecutor told one of them, who tested positive, that "People like you should be burnt alive. You do not deserve to live," HRW said.

Four of the eight arrested were jailed for a year for the "habitual practice of debauchery," a term used to penalize consensual homosexual conduct in Egyptian law, on the basis of coerced and repudiated statements, HRW said.

In addition to the two still detained in hospital, the remaining two are in custody in a Cairo jail.

"The government should end arbitrary arrests based on HIV status and take steps to end prejudice and misinformation about HIV/AIDS," HRW said. "These shocking arrests and trials embody both ignorance and injustice."

"Egypt threatens not just its international reputation but its own population if it responds to the HIV/AIDS epidemic with prison terms instead of prevention and care." said HRW's Scott Long.

"These cases show Egyptian police acting on the dangerous belief that HIV is not a condition to be treated but a crime to be punished," Long said.

HRW slammed the alleged torture and called on authorities to end the practice of chaining detainees in hospital, and ensure that the men receive the highest available standard of medical care for any serious health conditions.

Egyptian authorities did not immediately respond to the allegations.

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