Undercover Egyptian police officers created fake profiles on gay dating apps in order to lure unsuspecting users into making incriminating statements, an investigation has found.
The technique was uncovered in the transcripts of Egyptian police reports, which show how authorities are targeting LGBTQ people for arrest and imprisonment.
In one interaction on the app WhosHere, a police officer asked a young man, “Have you slept with men before?”, to which the user replied in the affirmative. The officer then pressured the man to meet so that he could be arrested.
Homosexuality is not explicitly illegal in Egypt but LGBTQ people have long been charged with “debauchery” to criminalise their behaviour.
One user accused Egyptian police of framing him by making a fake profile of him, photoshopping his photos to be more explicit and faking a conversation in which he appeared to offer sex work. The man was sentenced to three months imprisonment for “habitual debauchery”, which was reduced to a month on appeal.
One foreigner was arrested, charged with “debauchery” and deported after using the gay dating app Grindr. After an informant engaged the man in conversation on the app, a police transcript said the user “admitted his perversion, his willingness to engage in debauchery for free, and sent pictures of himself and his body”.
Grindr told the BBC: “We work extensively with Egyptian LGBTQ activists, international human rights advocates, and safety-focused technologists to best serve our users in the region.”
Beatings and sexual violence in custody
After the BBC approached WhosHere, the app changed its settings to remove the profile option “seeking same sex”, a criterion that had put users in Egypt at risk.
The Egyptian police did not respond to a request for comment.
The UK College of Policing works with the Foreign Office and the United Nations to provide training to Egypt.
The Foreign Office said: "No UK funding has gone towards training for the Egyptian police in activities relevant to the claims made in the documentary.
"Our programmes have robust measures in place to help ensure they comply with the UK’s domestic and international human rights obligations," it added.
It is not the first time Egyptian police have been accused of using dating apps to target the LGBTQ community.
In 2020, Human Rights Watch said Egyptian security “routinely pick people off the streets based solely on their gender expression, entrap them through social networking sites and dating applications, and unlawfully search their phones.”
The watchdog group said LGBTQ Egyptians had been subjected to torture, beatings and sexual violence in police custody, often under the guise of forced anal exams.
In 2017, authorities detained 75 people after rainbow flags were flown at a concert in Cairo. Of these, 16 were later sentenced to three years in prison on charges of “inciting debauchery” and “abnormal sexual relations”.
During a visit to Cairo on Monday, Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said the US will keep pushing Egypt to improve its human rights record, including by freeing more political prisoners and guaranteeing freedom of expression.
Mr Blinken said Egypt had taken “important strides” in protecting religious freedoms, empowering women and releasing some prisoners. “But the concerns that we have remain and in the spirit of candour and the spirit of the partnership we have, we expressed those very clearly,” he added.