A bipartisan group of members of Congress has written a letter to Vice President Mike Pence asking him to bring up concerns about recent human rights abuses during his upcoming trip to Egypt in January.
Pence had been scheduled to travel to Egypt, and then onto Israel, this week but postponed his plans, citing the important vote on Trump’s sweeping tax overhaul, worried that he might have to cast the deciding vote in the U.S. Senate if there was a tie.
In the letter, the members of Congress call on the vice president to address recent crackdowns by the Egyptian government against non-governmental organizations exercising free speech rights, religious minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community. Recently, members of Egypt’s parliament have floated the idea of passing a bill to criminalize same-sex relations, something that also concerns the U.S. officials.
“The arrest, harassment, and incitement against LGBT individuals inside Egypt must cease immediately, the individuals in detention must be released, and the government should oppose any laws that seek to criminalize the LGBT community,” the letter reads.
Pence’s trip comes after several reports that Egyptian law enforcement authorities have begun targeting members of the LGBTQ community in places where they congregate. In September, several activists were arrested for waving a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo. The government has arrested more than 70 LGBTQ people and allies, with many receiving egregiously long jail sentences for various crimes such as “promoting deviancy.”
The Egyptian government has also instructed media outlets that they can only report on LGBTQ people as having “a shameful disease,” making it harder for media to accurately report on the government crackdown. In addition, the proposed criminalization bill would punish those heterosexual allies of the LGBTQ community who speak out against the government’s abuses.
Jeremy Kadden, a senior international policy advocate with the Human Rights Campaign, says that while HRC and other LGBTQ advocates are under no illusion that Pence will prioritize mentioning LGBTQ rights, they hope he will mention them as part of a larger talk about crackdowns on human rights.
“Our goal is for the vice president to raise human rights issues generally, with some mention of LGBTQ rights issues,” Kadden says. “He should make sure that they know that arrests of LGBTQ people, journalists and dissidents are being watched and that the U.S. is paying attention to these things.”
Kadden said HRC is particularly concerned about the legislation being proposed by the country’s parliament.
“There are already debauchery laws in Egypt that technically make it illegal to be gay, but they haven’t specifically mentioned homosexuality,” he says. “The concern is that parliament passing this will explicitly criminalize LGBT people and anyone who speaks up on their behalf.”