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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Explained: Who was Sarah Hegazi, Egyptian LGBTQ activist who died by suicide

Sarah Hegazi was arrested after a rainbow flag was raised during a concert in Egypt. In prison, she alleged she was sexually assaulted. Her suicide note read: 'I tried to find redemption and failed, forgive me'.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: June 19, 2020 8:09:13 pm
Sarah Hegazi, who was Sarah Hegazi, Sarah Hegazi suicide, Sarah Hegazi arrest, Sarah Hegazi dead A rainbow flag raised at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo in 2017. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On June 14, Sarah Hegazi, a 30-year-old Egyptian gay rights activist died by suicide while in exile in Canada. In a handwritten note recovered and circulating on social media, Hegazi wrote: “To my siblings–I tried to find redemption and failed, forgive me.”

Who was Sarah Hegazi?

In 2017, Hegazi was one among 22 people arrested as part of a crackdown on gays after a rainbow flag — a symbol of the LGBTQ movement — was raised at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo, Egypt. Mashrou’ Leila is a Lebanese alternative rock band whose lead singer is openly gay.

According to a published by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), since September 22, 2017, Egyptian forces have been “relentless” in their bid to track down people that are suspected of being gay or supporting LGBTQ rights.

On October 1, 2017, Egypt’s Supreme State Security Prosecution ordered that two activists, Hegazi and Ahmed Alaa, be detained for a period of 15 days pending investigation into reports of them having joined a banned organisation and interfering with the constitution. As per the HRW report, Hegazy told her lawyers that police officers at the al-Sayeda Zeinab police station in Cairo allowed fellow detainees to beat and sexually harass her after informing them of the reason for her arrest.

In an article published in Arabic on Mada Masr in September 2018, Hegazi wrote, “The men of the Sayeda Zeinab police station also incited the women being held there to sexually assault me, physically and verbally.

“There is no difference between a bearded religious extremist who wants to kill you because he believes he ranks higher in the eyes of his god, and is therefore tasked with killing anyone who is different to him, and a non-bearded, well-dressed man with a new phone and a fancy car who believes he ranks higher in the eyes of his god, and so is tasked with torturing and imprisoning and inciting against anyone who is different,” she wrote.

According to The New York Times, she was granted bail three months after her arrest, following “discreet pressure” from western and south American diplomats.

What is the state of LGBT rights in Egypt?

While homosexuality is not technically banned in Egypt, law enforcement agencies use the debauchery law to criminalise it.

As per Egypt’s Law 10/1961 on the combating of prostitution, “Whoever incites a person, be they male or female, to engage in debauchery or in prostitution, or assists in this or facilitates it, and similarly whoever employs a person or tempts him or induces him with the intention of engaging in debauchery or prostitution, is to be sentenced to imprisonment for a period not less than one year and not more than three years”, along with a fine.

On October 25, 2017, members of the Egyptian parliament proposed a draft law to criminalise “acts of homosexuality”. One of the members who proposed the draft law said it proposed to constrain the presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Egypt. The proposed Bill defined homosexuality as any person engaging in sexual intercourse with someone of the same sex.

The Bill was later struck down.

A 1994 ruling by the UN Human Rights Committee found that laws that criminalised consensual sex between adults violated the right to privacy guaranteed by Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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