December 27, 2014 / 2:16 PM / 5 years ago

Egypt reduces sentence for eight men over gay marriage video

CAIRO, Dec 27 (Reuters) - An Egyptian appeals court reduced the jail terms on Saturday for eight men sentenced last month on charges relating to their appearance in an online video purporting to show the country’s first gay marriage ceremony.

The court cut the sentences - on charges of spreading indecent images and inciting debauchery - from three years each to one year, judicial sources said. The verdict drew tears and shouts from family members in the courtroom, according to a Reuters witness.

The defendants have denied the charges. At the sentencing hearing in November, one held up a copy of the Koran.

Gay marriage is not legal in Egypt, a conservative Muslim society where the footage, which went viral on social media sites in August, caused a stir online. It appeared to show a group of men celebrating a gay wedding on a Nile riverboat.

Though homosexuality is not specifically outlawed in Egypt, discrimination is rife. Arrests of gay men occasionally make headlines and the accused are typically charged with debauchery, immorality or blasphemy, drawing criticism from rights groups.

Some 26 men were arrested earlier this month in a raid on a Cairo bathhouse. Their trial, on charges including debauchery, is set to begin on Jan. 4. A private television channel aired footage of the half-naked men, hands bound, being escorted out of the bathhouse.

The eight men whose sentences were reduced on Saturday were first charged in September when a public prosecutor’s statement said that the images were “humiliating, regrettable and would anger God”, concluding that they constituted a criminal act. The prosecutor ordered the coroner to carry out physical examinations as part of the investigation.

The new ruling can be appealed to the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court. (Reporting By Maggie Fick; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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