BullShnit: Egyptian homophobia’s Swiss defenders

Mona Iraqi, in an Egyptian Internet meme
Mona Iraqi, in an Egyptian Internet meme
ACTION: Please write to Shnit and Olivier van der Hoeven in protest at the film festival’s decision to support homophobic informer Mona Iraqi: 
The International Short Film Festival is based, along with its director, Olivier van der Hoeven, in the placid Swiss capital of Bern. The festival has branches or “playgrounds” in Argentina, El Salvador, Japan, Russia, South Africa, and Thailand. Oh, and Cairo, Egypt. The festival goes by “Shnit” for short, a semi-acronym ugly but calculated to grab attention. As director of its Cairo playground, Shnit chose someone also skilled at doing ugly things that grab attention. Shnit’s Egypt representative is the infamous TV presenter, gay hunter, homophobe, and police informer Mona Iraqi.
Pink in some places, not in others: Olivier de Hoeven, director of Shnit
Pink in some places, not in others: Olivier de Hoeven, director of Shnit
A splendid French blogger discovered this four days ago. But let’s be fair: Shnit chose Mona Iraqi before her full penchant for depredations was known. She only revealed herself wholly last weekend, when — doing her bit for a massive government crackdown on Egypt’s LGBT communities – she led a police raid on a Cairo bathhouse. 25 or more men — beaten and bound, paraded naked and humiliated into the cold night, their faces shown on Mona’s own Facebook page — now face charges of homosexual conduct as a result of Iraqi’s work, with prison terms of up to three years. Since then, she’s been boasting about this for a domestic audience, and lying about it for a foreign one. This poses PR problems for an international cultural klatsch like Shnit, which — as its name shows — has an fine ear for publicity. They’ve had a week to decide: how do they deal with their wayward Egypt employee?
By lying. Amazingly, Shnit hasn’t distanced itself from Mona Iraqi’s collusion with Cairo’s gay-chasing, torturing police. They endorse what she did while parroting her deceptions. That’s disgraceful. Shnit owes LGBT people, in Egypt and around the world, an apology; they owe one to Egypt’s whole embattled human rights community. And, for the sake of their reputation, they need to scrub Mona Iraqi from their credits now.
The first thing Shnit did post-debacle was to change its website to cover its tracks. Now, when you open the site, you get this:
Screen shot 2014-12-16 at 10.22.29 PMSo very pro-queer! The ad’s for a Dutch movie about a trans* teenager. You might get the impression from the context that it has shown in Shnit’s Cairo festival. That’s misrepresentation number one: So far as I can make out, it never has.  
The context is what counts here, and it’s all about justifying what Mona Iraqi did. When you click on the image, you get some boilerplate:
Shnit International Shortfilmfestival has a proud, long-standing history of support and inclusion of films, filmmakers and audiences of all sexual orientations, of all races and walks of life, from every corner of the world. We strongly believe in freedom of lifestyle and expression.
But then comes the good part:
This is complete bullShnit, and surely Olivier van der Hoeven knows it. Mona Iraqi wasn’t looking for evidence of “sex trafficking” — which is not, of course, the same thing as “sex trade for money” — nor did she find any. She was looking for evidence of homosexual conduct, because the police have been arresting alleged gay and trans people by the dozens or hundreds for a year now. (Olivier van der Hoeven can read about that here andhere.) The men are being charged under an Egyptian law against men having sex with men; the provision says nothing about the exchange of money. (Olivier van der Hoeven can read about that law here.) Mona Iraqi collaborated with Cairo’s gay-hunting cops in planning and executing the raid: a perfect paradigm of what indignant Egyptians call “informer journalism.” Iraqi wrote on her Facebook page the day after the raid (complaints later got the post taken down):
Today is a beautiful day … Our program was able to break up a place for perversion between men and to catch them flagrantly in the act … My God, the result is beautiful.
As for filming “to ensure the police act in accordance with the humanitarian standards” — this makes me so sick I can barely breathe. If Mona Iraqi cared about “humanitarian standards” she would protest how police led the men stripped onto the street, humiliated and degraded, or about the forensic anal exams — a form of torture,repeatedly condemned by Human Rights Watch and other rights groups — that the victims have been forced to endure. About those grotesque abuses, the “humanitarian” Mona Iraqi hasn’t uttered a sound.
Neither will Shnit. By regurgitating Mona Iraqi’s hypocritical lies, Shnit and de Hoeven make themselves complicit with homophobia, prison terms, police brutality, and torture. On the other hand, Mona Iraqi’s footage of the raid should make an exciting short film. Shnit can rake in dollars showing it in Cape Town, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, or Bern.
Mona Iraq (R) making a short film about police acting in accordance with humanitarian standards, December 7, 2014
Mona Iraq (R) making a short film about police acting in accordance with humanitarian standards, December 7, 2014
Iraqi’s allusions to “sex trafficking” are simply a stab at explaining away these horrors. (If the men are victims of trafficking, why are they facing three years in prison?) She and Shnit evidently share the certainty that sex workers have no human rights. That parallels Iraqi’s mortifying invocation of HIV/AIDS as a reason for the raid. The arrests she supervised, Iraqi told the Egyptian press, “confirm the strong relationship between the spread of AIDS and sexual practices between men.” She was actually saving lives for World AIDS Day, she insists. These fictions only further the transmission of HIV/AIDS: by increasing the stigma attached to men who have sex with men, by driving vulnerable communities further underground, by furnishing heterosexual partners a false feeling of safety. In giving Iraqi’s deceptions a free pass, Shnit deals a further and disgusting insult to Egyptians actually trying to combat the pandemic.
It gets worse. Today a Shnit staffer, researcher and project coordinator Ekaterina Tomasova, started tweeting in Mona Iraqi’s defense. The blogger who initially discovered the Mona – Schnit connection reproached her. In reply Tomasova cited the statement on Schnit’s website:
Katja 1“It’s her work.” This got me riled up. I stepped in:
Katja 2I tried to give Tarasova and Shnit the benefit of the doubt: maybe they actually didn’t know that any sex between men is an “unlawful action” in Egypt, or that a police crackdown has been expanding for a year. I wrote:
Katja 4And that led to the following exchange:
Katja 3Meanwhile, Mona Iraqi was furiously retweeting everything her colleague Tarasova wrote:
Katja 6One Middle Eastern LGBT rights activist wrote to Tarasova:
Screen shot 2014-12-17 at 1.47.07 AM
Georges Azzi, distinguished Lebanese activist and head of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, weighed in:
Screen shot 2014-12-17 at 1.48.26 AMBut Tarasova insisted that she knew better than people in the region.
Screen shot 2014-12-17 at 1.47.18 AMIt was, she said, just “words against words.”
Katja 6The rainbow flag always makes everything better.
Ekaterina Tarasova’s job with Shnit is “research,” and I think she could use some lessons on how to do it. You might also suppose that, at some point, a staffer in a sensitive situation like this would decide the better part of valor was to shut up. But not Shnit, and not Tarasova. The thing is, they truly love Mona Iraqi. They’re truly eager to defend her against any and all evidence. And her victims, rotting in a Cairo jail, can go to hell — except they’re already in it.
Screen shot 2014-12-17 at 2.48.24 AMOnce again: you can write to Shnit at . They surely should explain how they square their support for Mona Iraqi’s police raid with their supposed endorsement of equality; how their equanimity about jailing gay men (or torturing supposed victims of “trafficking,” for that matter) fits with their pieties about human rights. The arts aren’t there to make torture and hate honored guests at a champagne reception. As one activist put it:
Screen shot 2014-12-17 at 3.32.40 AM
 Scott Long

Saudi Arabia opposes gender equality in climate change policy

The Saudi Arabia delegation made a strong pitch to exclude the recognition of gender equality in the recommendations for the draft agreement for Paris in 2015 which is under discussion in Lima. A delegate who was part of the meeting of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), on Saturday said that it was only Mexico which fought till the end to retain gender as being paramount in the implementation of climate change policy.
The SBI is one of the two permanent subsidiary bodies to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and provides recommendations for the Conference of Parties through assessment and review of the effective implementation of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol.
The delegate said that earlier the gender aspect was woven into the entire text but now a compromised language has been formulated and gender is only in the preamble. One country has bullied the rest of the world and it even got support from the European Union (EU), the delegate pointed out. Saudi Arabia was against any language on gender equality and incorporating gender in climate change policies.
In protest Climate Action Network (CAN), a network of 900 non-governmental organisations gave the EU and Saudi Arabia the “fossil of the day” award which is given every day during the talks to countries judged to have done their ‘best’ to block progress in the negotiations. CAN said the Saudi delegation has spoken out strongly against the recognition of gender equality in the implementation process.
In a statement CAN said over four days Saudi Arabia attacked the vital content on gender equality, and the need to promote urgent and effective gender-responsive climate policy. The EU fell in disgrace along with Saudi Arabia for supporting, in public, the withdrawal of gender equality language, CAN added. However, some of the language was restored, though sources in the meeting said that the U.S. is opposing the inclusion of gender in the section on finance in the new climate agreement.
This would have a negative impact, since climate change has differentiated impacts in women and men, and therefore there is a need to devise differentiated action in climate policies.
Without proper methodologies in the finance schemes, the finance will be allocated without understanding the gendered impacts of climate change and therefore may be exacerbating inequalities, sources said.
The aim was to give a strong focus on gender to support countries in implementing climate change policies with gender considerations. There are fears now that even in the final text the battle to include all aspects of gender and climate change will be a difficult one.
Meanwhile the UN climate talks will focus on gender on Tuesday which is Gender Day and there is even a high level segment on gender and climate change. One of the programmes called Momentum for Change, showcases women's leadership on climate action.

The Hindu

West Hampstead doctor jumped from balcony after telling Muslim mother he was gay

Flowers laid at the spot where Dr Mahmood fell. Picture: Polly Hancock.
A Harley Street doctor who died following a fall from the top floor of a West Hampstead apartment block took his own life after revealing he was gay to his Muslim mother, an inquest heard.
Dr Nazim Mahmood, co-founder of beauty treatment company Face Clinic, was found lying naked on the pavement outside Barclays bank in West End Lane on July 30.
The 34-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene having fallen from the balcony of the top floor apartment he shared with fiancée Matthew Ogston in Fawley Street, off West End Lane.
During an inquest into Dr Mahmood’s death at St Pancras Coroners’ Court today, it was revealed Dr Mahmood had told his mother he was gay and was in a 13-year relationship with Mr Ogston just days before his death.
The court heard Dr Mahmood had kept his sexuality secret from his Muslim family in Birmingham fearing they would refuse to accept it on religious and cultural grounds.
But having returned to the family home for the Muslim festival of Eid shortly before his death, Dr Mahmood revealed his sexuality after his mother asked him if he was gay, the court heard.
Mr Ogston told the court: “She had suggested to him he needed to see a psychiatrist to see if he could be cured. Together I think they agreed they would get through it.
“Telling someone they needed to be cured would not be the easiest thing to take.”
Mr Ogston wept in court as he told of his love for Dr Mahmood, describing him as his “soulmate”, and insisted his fiancée had given no indication of any intention to kill himself.
Mr Ogston added: “He always wanted to help other people, always put other people first and wanted to care for people. He was quite simply the most amazing man I’ll ever meet in my whole life.”
The court heard Dr Mahmood, who ran Botox clinics at Health Town in West End Lane, had never suffered from depression or any other mental illness and had taken drugs mephedrone and ketamine shortly before his death.
Coroner Mary Hassell ruled that Dr Mahmood took his own life.
She said: “It seems incredible that a young man with so much going for him could have taken his own life. But what I’ve heard is that he had one great sadness which was the difficulty his family had in accepting his sexuality.
“It seems desperately sad that in 2014 a person should feel that they can’t be accepted because of the way that they live and I can only feel the deepest sympathy for Nazim that he felt so sad and desperate about this that he took his life.”

Saudi Arabia: Arrest of two activists who defend the women's right to drive a car

Two activists Maysaa Al-Amodi and Lujain Al-Hathlol have been arrested on 1st December 2014. They have both been working strongly in defense of women's right to drive in Saudi Arabia and have participated actively in the campaigns, "I have the right to lead" and "my right to my dignity."

Maysaa Al-Amodi was arrested, without being given a reason, on arrival at the Saudi Arabia-UAE border on her way to deliver some personal materials to the scholarship student, Lujain Al-Hathlol, who was also arrested after arriving by road from UAE. Lujain Al-Hathlol was arrested at the Saudi Passports Control Office where they confiscated her passport and prevent her from entering the country.
Reliable reports confirm that Maysaa Al-Amodi is being held at the central prison in Al-Ahsa while Lujain Al-Hathlol is kept at the Al-Ahsa Girls House. Al-Hathlol holds a Gulf general driving license, which allows her to drive in Saudi Arabia, although such licences for women are not recognised by the authorities.  
The Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) believes that the targeting of activist Maysaa Al-Amodi and Lujain Al-Hathlol forms part of an ongoing systematic policy of harassment by the Saudi authorities against activists who demand the women’s right to drive a car in Saudi Arabia. Many activists have already been detained and have had their cars seized.     
The Monitor for Human Rights and the GCHR urge the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:
1. Stop targeting campaigners for women's right to drive and allow women to drive freely without any harassment;
2. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders and journalists in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free from all restrictions including security and judicial harassment.
We respectfully reminds the authorities in Saudi Arabia that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognizes the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (c) “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”

Facebook still enforcing its Real Name Policy


Although this was not originally intended by its creators, Facebook has become a vital tool for activists around the world and in particular during the events that rocked the Arab world in the past four years. Activists around the Arab region use Facebook to organize and to spread their message faster among the youth. LGBTI activists are no exception. For many, anonymity on the social network has allowed to contact people and operate safely.

Anonymity though is something Facebook does not endorse. Facebook’s Terms of Service even explicitly forbid using a fake name for an account on the social media platform. The real-name policy has created many problems. Several LGBTI activists in Lebanon and Tunisia said that their accounts were deactivated because they were using fake names. One activist said that he did not reopen his “fake” account because he was asked for a scan of his identity card. The activist argued that he needed the “fake account” on Facebook to feel safer contacting others and posting LGBTI-related topics on his wall.

Facebook has been criticized lately for forcing people to use their real names. Executives from the social network say that they require “authentic identities” in order to create a “safe community” for users.

But one particular group that felt targeted by the move stirred the controversy. Drag Queens in San Francisco using stage names, which they are widely known by, organized rallies against Facebook in recent months. The network then decided to alter its position and backed up.

Christopher Cox, Facebook's product chief, apologized to those affected by the new regulations last month:

"The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that's Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that's Lil Miss Hot Mess… Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name… There's lots of room for improvement in the reporting and enforcement mechanisms, tools for understanding who's real and who's not, and the customer service for anyone who's affected."

But it’s not clear whether this means easing up on the policy for activists in the Arab region as well or whether there will be mechanisms that make it possible for those using fake names for safety reasons to plead their case with Facebook.

recent article reported that “user accounts are still being suspended or deactivated for not using people’s legal names” despite Cox’s apology.

Meanwhile, as an LGBTI activist or a regular person wishing to interact in an anonymous way on Facebook, you can create a page rather than an account. The social network allows you to create a closed group or, for more security, a secret group. In a secret group, only members added or invited are admitted. The group’s name and members are hidden from anyone outside the group.

If your main concern is that someone hacks into your account and reads messages you have been exchanging with others, you should use software programs that allow you to exchange encrypted messages with your friends on Facebook.

Crypto.cat is one program that allows you to chat safely with someone else on the browser or through Facebook. Jitsi allows also for encrypted chats on Facebook as well and includes the possibility not only for safe voice messaging but also video conversations.

Encrypted messages on Facebook cannot be read by others even if they hack into your account. 

Avoiding Entrapment after an Online Chat


There is always an element of risk in physically meeting a stranger after an online chat. How can you tell that the stranger is a decent person who is not going to blackmail you or physically hurt you? How can you tell that he is an informant or a police agent who is trying to set a trap for you in order to arrest you?

These are all difficult questions to answer. In general, especially in countries where authorities are actively on the hunt for LGBTI individuals like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it’s advisable not to set a date with anyone who doesn’t seem to be trustworthy. One tip is to ask as many questions as possible to the person you chat with before giving away any data that might identify you. Inconsistencies in answers can be an indication that the person is dodgy. It is also better to chat with someone repeatedly and over an extended period of time before meeting him in person.

Avoid sending your face photos or your personal information such as your real full name or your home address to someone you haven’t met in person.

Most reported stories of entrapment in Arab countries were said to happen in public places. Despite that fact, it is still recommended not to meet someone for the first time in a private home. It might be wise to choose a crowded public place as a meeting point and arrive earlier to the meeting so if you feel there is something suspicious about the person you have a date with, you can always escape. Try also not to have “incriminating” material on your mobile phone when you meet someone for the first time. It is reported that in case one is arrested following an entrapment, authorities use photos and chat conversations on his phone against him. 

These tips might sound rather drastic but there were several cases of online entrapment reported in the Arab region over the past year. But it remains impossible to get an accurate assessment of the frequency of such cases.

For instance, in Egypt, it was repeatedly reported that security services monitor regularly sites like gayegypt.com and dating applications and use them to set up fake meetings.

One gay Egyptian man told France 24 in a recent report:

“In the current climate, I no longer dare to use applications to meet people. Undercover police agents use the applications to set up meetings with gays in cafes. It’s a trap. About a week ago, a friend of mine was arrested in this way in Cairo. I still haven’t heard from him. When I tried to call his parents, they claimed he was visiting family in another city. I’m scared he’ll be tortured or raped. Moreover, he’s a fragile person and the police could force him to name other gays… like me, for example.”

Grindr has posted a warning about the issue of entrapment for users in Egypt. Local LGBTI activists have also cautioned against meetings through dating applications like Grindr, Hornit or Scruff. One noteworthy advice is not to be dazzled by someone’s seeming level of education. “Informants can be cultured and very well-informed about (gay life),” said a post on a Facebook page called, “End the persecution of the LGBTQ community in Egypt”.

Another recent case of entrapment was reported in Saudi Arabia. A local publication reported in August that a 20-something gay man was arrested after unknowingly setting up a date with a security agent via Twitter.

The unidentified Saudi was arrested at a public meeting place in Medina, and his phone was confiscated. Police said the phone contained “evidence for his homosexuality” and “indecent images.” He was sentenced to three years in jail and 450 lashes.