CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – Egyptian police have stepped up arrests of persons suspected of having HIV, detaining four men this month in a crackdown that violates basic human rights, two international rights groups said Friday.
New York-based Human Rights Watch and London-based Amnesty International warned in a joint statement that the arrests could undermine HIV/AIDS prevention effort as people in Egypt become increasingly afraid to seek information on the subject.
Police denied making any HIV-related arrests but one police official speaking on condition of anonymity said there is a campaign to get persons registered in hospital records as HIV-positive into treatment in “special clinics.” The official said he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The latest arrests bring to eight the number of HIV suspects in detention.
Four men were convicted in mid-January of “habitual practice of debauchery,” a term used in the Egyptian legal system for consensual homosexual acts, Human Rights Watch said. Those men have been sentenced to one-year prison terms that have been upheld by an appeals court, the group said.
Homosexuality is not explicitly referred to in Egypt’s legal code, but a wide range of laws covering obscenity, prostitution and debauchery are applied to homosexuals in this conservative country.
“This not only violates the most basic rights of people living with HIV. It also threatens public health by making it dangerous for anyone to seek information about HIV prevention or treatment,” said Rebecca Schleifer of Human Rights Watch.
The police official who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that police recently rounded up four men and sent them to “precautionary hospital detention” for treatment. He declined to elaborate.
The two watchdog groups called on Cairo to release all 12 men, both the four convicted and the eight in detention.
The rights groups urged Egypt to establish training for all criminal-justice officials on medical facts and international human rights standards in relation to HIV, and to immediately discontinue all testing of detainees that is not consensual.