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Egyptian Human Rights Groups Denounce Sentencing of 23 Men - 2001-11-14

Human rights advocates in Egypt are criticizing the jail terms handed down to 23 men convicted on charges related to alleged acts of homosexuality. The men were arrested last May, when Egyptian police raided a restaurant boat on the Nile.

They were accused of taking part in a gay sex party, and charged with debauchery and contempt of religion.

Two of the men were also accused of exploiting Islam to promote extremist ideas. One was sentenced to five years and the other to three. Twenty men were sentenced to two years and one man got a one year sentence.

Hafez Abou Saada, the secretary-general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, says instead of being tried in criminal court, the men were brought before the State Security Court, which was established decades ago to protect against threats to national security.

"I believe our penal code does not contain this kind of crime. So the main accusation against these people that they are harming the Islamic religion is not an accusation in our penal codes. This is a sexual orientation, it's not a crime of our penal codes," he said.

The arrest of the 52 men prompted protests in the West. Egyptian human rights groups say they will press for the convictions to be overturned, alleging the men were tried in the wrong court.