CAIRO — A court in Cairo has sentenced a 25-year-old trans woman named Malooka Aldlouah to six years in prison under a law that criminalizes "debauchery."
Aldlouah may be the first person sentenced under this provision since an appeals court announced on Monday that it would uphold the acquittal of 26 men accused of participating in a "gay sex party" at a bathhouse in December. That case was the most high-profile trial of people accused of homosexuality in Egypt in more than a decade, and the lower court's not-guilty ruling caught observers by surprise. It was the first time a lower court had dismissed charges of debauchery in a high-profile case since police began arresting large numbers of allegedly gay men in October 2013.
Many of the approximately 150 people who have been arrested in this crackdown were targeted by police through Facebook and online dating websites, and police told Egyptian news outlets that this is how Aldlouah came to their attention.
When she was arrested in late December along with a roommate, police said that she had posted "hardcore" videos on YouTube that were intended to advertise sexual services including "sadistic sex." But a review of Aldlouah's YouTube and Facebook accounts by BuzzFeed News showed only videos of her dancing clothed — sometimes wearing lingerie — and none had been posted within the past year.
Aldlouah's social media posts were not the only things used as evidence against her by prosecutors. The bellman in the apartment building where she lived also provided testimony corroborating the prostitution charges.
Egyptian news outlets hyped the news of her arrest, consistent with a pattern that multiple editors told BuzzFeed News has grown under pressure from the government. One of Egypt's most popular outlets called Aldlouah "The Most Dangerous Shemale in Egypt," while some outlets reported that she was running a covert network that was recruiting men into homosexuality.
Human rights activists had been hopeful that the acquittal in the bathhouse case would put an end to prosecutions for debauchery because the morality police were widely seen as having overreached. Many Egyptians use bathhouses like the one where the men were arrested for basic hygiene, and the fact that a television presenter was on hand filming as they were dragged naked to the police station suggested a level of collusion with the media that crossed the line, even for many news outlets close with the regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Aldlouah's case suggests courts are still willing to convict when there is evidence of prostitution, and police appear to have been making a push to entrap gay and trans sex workers. Earlier this month, BuzzFeed News interviewed a 22 year-old man who was arrested in March during a police bust targeting his transgender partner, a sex worker who advertised on the website TSdating.com. The American human rights activist Scott Long, who has been doing research in Cairo for the past two years, has interviewed others who were targeted through the same website.