An Egyptian appeals court on Saturday reduced prison sentences for eight men imprisoned after they were shown in a YouTube video participating in what authorities allege was a marriage ceremony between two men, according to reports in the Egyptian media.
In November, a lower court judge had found the men guilty of multiple charges, including "inciting debauchery," and sentenced them all to three years in prison. The video, which appeared to have been captured on a cell phone, blew up on Arabic social media late this summer. It was described online and in the Arabic press as Egypt's "first same-sex wedding," but one of the participants in the video claimed in a call to an Egyptian talk show that the whole thing was a joke.
The case is one of the most high-profile incidents in what has been a widening witch hunt for alleged LGBT people that began in the fall of 2013 under the new regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Since last October, well over 60 alleged gay men and trans women have been arrested. The arrests mark a dramatic increase over the one-year rule of Mohamed Morsi, a president affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the previous decade under his predecessor, the ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Government officials told BuzzFeed News earlier this year that the increased persecution of LGBT people was part of a political strategy by the Sisi regime to guard against a potential political challenge from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Twenty-six men are also awaiting trial on charges of participating in "gay sex parties" at a bath house in Cairo. Their arrests caused a sensation in Egypt after they were made public by the television reporter Mona Iraqi as part of a show purportedly about the spread of HIV in Egypt. Iraqi also claimed that she alerted police to sexual activity at the bath house. They are due before the court on Jan. 4.