Sentenced for a selfie: Middle East police target LGBTQ+ phones

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03/06/2022

BEIRUT/LOS ANGELES, March 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Before Omar leaves home in the morning, he carefully uninstalls the apps on his phone one by one – no WhatsApp, no Facebook, no Grindr. “The paranoia is constant,” said the 19-year-old gay Egyptian man, who asked the Thomson Reuters Foundation not to identify his home town or real name for his safety. If a policeman searched his phone, a single WhatsApp conversation or Facebook selfie could be enough to see Omar prosecuted under laws banning “debauchery” and “prostitution” – regularly used in Egypt to criminalise citizens for being gay. Wiping his phone clean has become a daily routine. “It’s like brushing my teeth,” Omar said. Around the world, marginalised communities are worried the internet is no longer a safe space for them as surveillance grows and hate speech goes unchecked. An in-depth study of court files published on Monday found police forces in Tunisia, Egypt, and Lebanon are increasingly relying on digital tools to identify, entrap and prosecute LGBTQ+ people – thus “intensifying anti-queer surveillance”.

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