“The government is taking the flag incident as an excuse to issue a larger crackdown on the community,” said Abdel Hameed. Some of Grindr’s tips include letting people know where you are going before meeting someone, checking if you have mutual friends and trying to meet virtually first through video so you know who you’re meeting. Warrants were issued on Friday for the arrest of three of the men, a day after a Manhattan grand jury indicted them on first-degree murder charges in relation to the deaths of D.C. A study by the Pew Research Centre earlier this year displayed global attitudes on morality – finding that 95 per cent of Egyptians believe homosexuality to be unacceptable. Officials clamping down on what it considers to be breaches of morality have in some cases resulted in the arrest and torture of those suspected of engaging in homosexual activity, who face allegations of immorality or blasphemy. «Please be careful about arranging meetings with people you don’t know and be careful about posting anything that might reveal your identity.»
As a result of the recent warnings, the US-based dating app Grindr has installed a warning in English and Arabic for its users. “We have been alerted that Egyptian police are actively making arrests of gay, bi, and trans people on digital platforms. They are using fake accounts and have also taken over accounts from real community members who have already been arrested and had their phones taken. We will also continue developing methodologies to reduce exposure of users and raise awareness on digital and physical security and technologies go to website among at-risk users. As geolocation-based dating/hook-up apps were an initiative of the queer community, we want our work which is inspired by this, to support these communities and to be used as an example for standards of design ethics, collaborations and tech responsibility. The watchdog group has accused Egyptian police, law enforcement, and the National Security Agency of routinely picking up individuals through the use of social media and gay dating apps, often detaining them, and using illegal phone searches to obtain evidence.
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Homosexuality is not expressly outlawed in the Muslim country, but a law against “debauchery” allows Egyptian authorities to secure arrests and convictions of LGBTQ people. In April 2016, 11 men suspected of being homosexuals were sentenced to 12 years in prison for “inciting debauchery”. These risks were not lost on the users, who are not just aware of the risks they face from the authorities and other homophobic non-state actors but also the risks they faced from app security flaws. 50% of our respondents said they stopped using certain apps due to “physical security concerns” and 20% because of “digital security” concerns. According to a report on France24, the country’s police have resorted to social media and GPS-enabled applications to locate gay and lesbian civilians.
Homosexuality is not outlawed in the Muslim country, but a law against “debauchery” allows Egyptian authorities to arrest LGBTQ people. Our findings showed that up until now the burden has predominantly rested on users to protect themselves against the threats they face when using these apps. However, understanding the environments and experiences of their users should not be optional for companies and apps. Sending security messages, the go-to effort towards due diligence for some LGBTQ apps, is simply not enough. «Egypt is arresting LGBT people and police may be posing as LGBT on social media to entrap you,» Grindr wrote at the time.
I managed to track down two people we are calling Laila and Jamal, who were victims of a video that went viral in Egypt a few years ago. The footage shows them being forced to strip and dance, while being beaten and abused. They told me the duo behind the video – named Bakar and Yahia – are notorious amongst the community.
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Targets meet a friendly stranger on a gay dating site, sometimes talking for weeks before meeting in person, only to find out they’re being targeted for a debauchery case. The most recent wave of arrests started last September after an audience member unfurled a gay pride flag at a rock concert, something the regime took as a personal insult. Human Rights Watch report that Egyptian police are using social media and apps such as Grindr to meet gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people before picking them up off the street and arresting them. EIPR and Amnesty International said most of the arrests were unrelated to the concert – some people were arrested in public spaces and others were “entrapped” via dating apps. U.S.-based gay dating apps, like Grindr and Hornet, used by millions globally, have provided Egyptian users with extra safety tips in Arabic.
It would be safe to assume that Tinder’s viral success in Egypt led the movement to normalize dating apps in the country. We found that many dating and messaging apps used by LGBTQ people in the region lack fundamental security features and knowledge of the contexts they are operating in. For example best practices around TSL and SSL for mobile applications, secure geolocation markers were lacking and registration and verification processes were weak.
In the onset of corona times in Egypt , Hawaya saw a surge in the number of users and their activity on the app. “Significant percentages of gay men in the Middle East find online as a safer way to connect,” Sean Howell, president of Hornet, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from New York. We know that the police are under pressure to arrest people and they are going about doing that through all the avenues that they have,” Jack Harrison-Quintana, a director at Grindr, said by phone from the United States. Since then nearly 70 people have been arrested, and more than 20 have been handed sentences ranging from six months to six years, according to Dalia Abdel Hameed of the rights group Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights . Penalties for violating such laws include prison time, hard labor, and fines, as well as deportation for individuals who are foreign nationals.
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In one text conversation between an undercover police officer and someone using the social networking and dating app WhosHere, the officer appears to be pressuring the app user to meet up in person – that person was later arrested. “ pushing international organizations and governments to demand justice and safety for the Egyptian LGBTQ community,” Lenihan was quoted as saying. It doesn’t feel safe, you feel like you’re always taking a risk or you’re approaching disappointment. But with the novel coronavirus pandemic, digital dating is only becoming more relevant.
His wallet and phone were missing, delaying notification, and his family later reported that his bank account had been emptied of about $20,000 through apps such as Venmo and Zelle. His credit cards were maxed out after being used to purchase items like expensive dinners and spa services. All six gang members have been indicted on charges of grand larceny, first-degree robbery, and conspiracy to drug and rob at least a dozen victims, reports The New York Post. Following our research, we can see that the reality of how the apps were used was far more complex than geolocation tracking. Local groups had been aware of this for a long time, but their calls for action had not been taken seriously enough.
Police there had printouts of his chat history that were taken from his phone after the arrest. He was taken to the Forensic Authority, where doctors examined his anus for signs of sexual activity, but there was still no real evidence of a crime. After three weeks, he was convicted of crimes related to debauchery and sentenced to a year in prison.
These were not the dominant reasons for the arrests and targeting of the users, but added to the vulnerability of users when they placed their trust in apps. Human Rights Watch released a report in February, documenting several instances of government officials across the Middle East and North Africa region targeting LGBTQI+ people based on their online activity on digital platforms. Dalia Abdel-Hammed, a gender researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, recently claimed that Egypt’s police are using dating apps, such as Grindr, to track down gay men in the country. Not only Egyptians are the target of this persecution; foreigners in the country are being monitored as well. In one transcript, police talk about finding a foreigner on the well-known gay dating app Grindr. In a subsequent chat with an undercover police informant, one foreigner unknowingly exposed himself.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, but authorities have used vague “public morality” laws to arrest gay men in the country anyway. The U.S. State Department acknowledged violence targeting the LGBTQ community in Egypt in a 2021 report. In Egypt, homosexuality is highly stigmatised, and there have long been allegations that police are hunting LGBT people online. Now BBC News has seen evidence of how the authorities are using dating and social apps to do this. Though Egypt doesn’t technically outlaw homosexual relations, authorities have been accused of blindly using “public morality” or “debauchery” laws to arrest members of the LGBTQ+ community in the country. In a 2021 report, the US State Department acknowledged violence targeting the LGBTQ community in Egypt.
Egyptian police are using dating apps such as Grindr to track and arrest gay people, it has been claimed. Grindr and Hornet, two U.S. based gay dating apps, recently sent tips to Egyptian users in Arabic, to take precautions while using the app. Egypt, though it technically does not outlaw homosexuality, frequently prosecutes members of the LGBTQ+ community on the grounds of ‘debauchery,’ or ‘violating public decency.’ In 2017, it arrested seven for raising a rainbow flag at a rock concert.