Egyptian police’s use of dating apps as a tool in their search for LGBT individuals
Homosexuality is widely condemned in Egypt, and there have been claims for some time that the police are actively searching for LGBT people on the internet. BBC News has recently obtained evidence that the government is using social networking and dating apps for this purpose. Substituted names have been used for all victims.
Because of my upbringing in Egypt, I am well aware of the pervasive homophobia that exists throughout the country. Although I have friends living there, they tell me that the climate has recently become much more harsh, and that the methods used to track down LGBT people have become more sophisticated.
Although there is no law specifically prohibiting homosexuality in Egypt, our research shows that members of the LGBT community are being criminalised under the “debauchery” law, which is actually a sex work law. Police officers are posing online to find LGBT people looking for dates and, in some cases, allegedly fabricating evidence against them, according to transcripts submitted in police arrest reports. They explain how the police initiate contact with their targets through text messages.
The United States and the European Union annually provide Egypt with billions of dollars because it is one of the most strategically important Western allies in the Middle East. Approximately 500,000 Britons travel there each year, and the United Kingdom also provides training to the Egyptian police force through the United Nations.
An undercover cop appears to put pressure on a WhosHere user to meet up in person in one exchange before the app user is 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.
More examples exist but they are too crude to be shared here. Because it is so dangerous for LGBT people to approach each other in public, dating apps have become increasingly popular in Egypt. However, in Egypt, the incitement of debauchery or public morality laws make it possible for anyone using the apps to be arrested.
Not only Egyptians are under attack. Police officers talk about how they found an international suspect (named Matt) on the gay hookup app Grindr in one transcript. Later, Matt was talking to a police informant when he “admitted his perversion, his willingness to engage in debauchery for free, and sent pictures of himself and his body,” as the transcript puts it. According to Matt’s account to the BBC, he was subsequently arrested, accused of “debauchery,” and deported.