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Egyptian police hunt LGBT people on dating apps

Egyptian police hunt LGBT people on dating apps

In Egypt, homosexuality is highly stigmatised, and there have long been allegations that police are hunting LGBT people online. Now BBC News has seen evidence of how the authorities are using dating and social apps to do this.

All victims’ names have been changed

Having grown up in Egypt, I am aware of the pervasive homophobia that permeates every part of its society. But friends there tell me that the atmosphere has recently become far more brutal, and the tactics for tracking down LGBT people more sophisticated.

There is no explicit law against homosexuality in Egypt, but our investigation has found that the crime of “debauchery” – a sex work law – is being used to criminalise the LGBT community.

Egyptian police hunt LGBT people on dating apps

Transcripts submitted in police arrest reports show how officers are posing online to seek out – and in some cases allegedly fabricate evidence against – LGBT people looking for dates online.

They reveal how the police initiate text conversations with their targets.

Egypt is one of the most strategically important Western allies in the Middle East and receives billions of dollars in US and EU support every year. Around half a million British tourists visit the country annually and the UK trains Egyptian police forces, via the UN.

In one text conversation between an undercover police officer and someone using the social networking and dating app WhosHere, the officer appears to be pressuring the app user to meet up in person – that person was later arrested.

Police: Have you slept with men before?

App user: Yes

Police: How about we meet?

App user: But I live with mom and dad

Police: Come on dear, don’t be shy, we can meet in public and then go to my flat.

There are more examples which are too explicit to publish.

It is extremely difficult for LGBT people to openly meet potential dates in public in Egypt, so dating apps are a popular way to do that. But just using the apps – regardless of your sexuality – can be grounds for arrest based on the incitement of debauchery or public morality laws in Egypt.

It is not just Egyptians who are being targeted. In one transcript, police describe identifying a foreigner, who we are calling Matt, on the popular gay dating app Grindr. A police informant then engaged Matt in conversation, and – the transcript says – Matt “admitted his perversion, his willingness to engage in debauchery for free, and sent pictures of himself and his body”.

Matt told the BBC that he was subsequently arrested, charged with “debauchery”, and eventually deported.

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