An Egyptian court sentenced eight men to three years each in jail Saturday for participating in a YouTube video showing what purports to be the country's first gay wedding on a Nile riverboat.
The men were accused of spreading indecent images and inciting debauchery — charges they deny — for a video that went viral in August that features two men exchanging rings before kissing and embracing.
The men will also be subject to three years probation following their prison terms, the judge ruled, although the sentences can be appealed. The defendants and their families demonstrated outside the courthouse in Cairo over the weekend.
Before they were detained in September, one of the men called a television talk show to say the video was filmed at a birthday party, according to Human Rights Watch.
A statement issued by the office of Egypt's chief prosecutor said the video was "shameful to God" and "offensive to public morals."
The prosecutor also demanded that forensic anal examinations be conducted on the men as part of the investigation — a long-held practice in Egypt that has been strongly condemned by rights groups.
A justice ministry forensics department spokesman said in October that the case lacked evidence and that the men were being unfairly prosecuted, according to the Guardian.
"The entire case is made up and lacks basis. The police did not arrest them red-handed and the video does not prove anything," Hesham Abdel Hamed said.
"The medical test showed that the eight defendants have not practiced homosexuality recently or in the past," Hamed reportedly said.
Homosexuality is not explicitly banned under Egyptian law, but same-sex marriage is not legal and perceived gay activities are often targeted by lawmakers and police, who routinely conduct high-profile raids on suspected gay people.
Homosexuals have been jailed in the past on various charges, including "scorning religion," "sexual practices contrary to Islam," and holding "deviant parties."
The largest incident involving multiple indictments of gay people in Egypt occurred in 2001 when dozens of men were arrested after police raided a floating disco named Queen Boat. Amid international uproar, 52 people faced trial.
In a separate case in April, four men were found guilty of "debauchery" and sentenced to eight years in jail for allegedly hosting gay sex parties involving makeup and women's clothing.
Human Rights Watch claims Egyptian authorities have regularly arrested, detained, and tortured men for suspected homosexual activities.
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