The Egyptian AIDS Society (EAS) announced its intention to file a lawsuit against TV anchor Mona Iraqi for a report she ran on her show “Al-Mistakhabi” (“The Concealed”) on a recent raid on homosexuals in a Cairo public bath, which she claimed was part of a campaign against AIDS.
“The channel where Iraqi works did contact us to take part in a special episode on the occasion of World AIDS Day,” the EAS said. “We agreed and the society’s director gave an interview answering several questions related to awareness.”
The society said it was surprised that the interview was used for “unethical purposes,” and was aired together with videos and other interviews that “are totally against the society’s codes.” The EAS added: “We did not know about the details that were later inserted and the channel manipulated the interview.”
The controversial episode included a report on 33 homosexuals arrested in a public bath in downtown Cairo, as well as a video from inside the bath where, according to the report, male orgies took place. Iraqi said a member of the show’s crew sneaked into the bath to take the video after the owner confirmed that “orgies are being held all day.”
The show played a recorded phone call between the crew member and the owner, in which the latter said: “People who frequent the bath can’t bring strangers to their houses for fear of being exposed, so they come to the bath to do that.”
Iraqi said she contacted one of the bath workers for more information: “He told me that the price of one night can amount to $100, and that businessmen come from abroad to have sex with men there.” She said she reported the issue to the Interior Ministry, and security forces subsequently raided the bath and arrested the customers.
“This place is a pigsty and it had to be closed,” she said, promising to dedicate the following episode to “more causes of AIDS.” Iraqi posted photos of the semi-naked customers on her Facebook account, which she deactivated following the heated debate caused by the report.
Rights groups across the Middle East and North Africa issued a joint statement condemning the raid and Iraqi’s role in it. “Iraqi did not only file a report with the police, but also accompanied security forces in the raid and took pictures of naked men trying to hide their faces,” said the statement.
According to the rights groups, Iraqi violated ethical codes of journalism, as well as articles 58 and 75 of the Criminal Procedures Law, which prohibit the disclosure of police procedures by unauthorized individuals or institutions. “Therefore, we ask that Iraqi be accordingly prosecuted.”
The signatories said Iraqi used AIDS as a facade for the report she ran on her show. “Such reports and raids will only lead to further stigmatization of AIDS patients and will, thus, discourage most of them from seeking advice or undergoing medical examination.”
Iraqi has denied all accusations leveled against her, saying she was only doing her job. “I am not a detective as people claim. I am working in investigative journalism and this necessitates reporting any crimes I come across to the police,” she said in a statement. “I did the same before the episodes on drug dealing and medical waste.”
Iraqi denied allegations that the episode and the police report constituted a violation of privacy. “I did not violate anybody’s personal privacy. I went to a public place where prostitution is openly practiced,” she said, adding that the customers were having unsafe sex, which is why the incident was relevant to the episode about AIDS.
Iraqi said even in countries where prostitution is legal, such places are constantly monitored, while this is not the case in Egypt, where those men’s families could easily contract AIDS. “I have done what my conscience dictated upon me on both the personal and professional levels,” she said.
Interior Ministry officials confirmed the legality of the raid and the charges. Ali al-Demerdash, director of the Cairo Security Bureau General, said the raid was “100% legal and arrest warrants were issued in advance.” District Prosecutor Mohamed Hetta said the owner of the bath would also be prosecuted for “turning a public bath into a homosexual brothel.”
Brian Whitaker of British newspaper The Guardian wonders why the customers in the bath, even if homosexuals, were arrested if there is no law in Egypt criminalizing homosexuality. He said defendants in such cases are charged with debauchery “under an old law originally intended to combat prostitution.”
Whitaker said the latest raid was conducted for the same reasons as one in 2001 known as the “Queen Boat Case,” in which 52 men were arrested for engaging in homosexual activities: diverting public attention.
The governments of former President Hosni Mubarak and current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are acting in the same way, Whitaker wrote. “It seems very likely that the crackdown under President al-Sisi is occurring for similar reasons: to distract attention from bigger issues, to show that while suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood the regime is still capable of playing the ‘morality’ card, or a combination of both.”