Six men were sentenced by an Egyptian court on Thursday to two years in prison with labor for allegedly advertising their apartment on Facebook for men to have sex with each other for a fee of $200 per night, reports the state-owned Egyptian news site Ahram Online based on information from "a judicial source."
This case may be the first case in which Egyptians have been caught on social media for charges of homosexuality, something human rights activists have warned could become widespread as the Egyptian government widens its crackdown on LGBT rights. Since October, around 80 people are known to have been arrested on allegations of homosexuality, including eight men who are due in court on Saturday for appearing in a video that shows a couple of men exchanging rings that made headlines throughout the Arabic press as a "gay wedding."
As the regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has stepped up these arrests, human rights activists had speculated that they were targeting people through social media, and Egyptian officials told BuzzFeed News that Facebook groups for gay Egyptians are being closely monitored. But there was little solid information about how social media had been used to entrap LGBT people.
The concern about entrapment over social media prompted the hookup app Grindr to begin sending a message to all Egyptian users this week warning that police officers may be "posing as LGBT on social media to entrap you." Grindr was under criticism this summer for a design feature that might allow the network to be used to pinpoint the exact location of users. The English-language Egyptian publication the Cairo Scene published a story on September 2 that said Grindr was a primary tool for these schemes, but the story included no evidence of documented cases and human rights activists in Egypt say they know of no confirmed cases of entrapment through Grindr or other social media applications designed exclusively for mobile phones.
A Facebook spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request from BuzzFeed News on whether it planned to warn users about the risk of entrapment in Egypt or other countries where LGBT people have been targeted through the network.
J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211
Contact J. Lester Feder at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.