CAIRO — Egyptian men wept and screamed inside a courtroom cage Wednesday as a judge sentenced 23 of them to jail terms of one to five years for gay sex in a trial denounced by human rights groups as persecution of homosexuals.
An additional 29 men were acquitted, prompting cries of joy from relatives who had denied the charges and accused the Egyptian media during the four-month trial of sensationalism and destroying the young men's reputations.
Only a few people were allowed into the courtroom to hear the verdicts, and outside, police wielding sticks drove back a crowd of about 200 relatives, lawyers, journalists and passersby.
Crammed into a courtroom cage, the 52 defendants in white prison uniforms wept and screamed as the presiding judge read out the sentences. Most of them could not hear what sentence they received.
The presiding judge, Mohammed Abdel Karim, read his verdicts and sentences quickly, ignoring the defendants' shouts and chants from some relatives.
The men were put on trial after police raided a Nile boat restaurant in May and accused them of taking part in a gay sex party.
Homosexuality is not explicitly referred to in the Egyptian legal system, but a wide range of laws covering obscenity, prostitution and public morality are punishable by jail terms.
"Those convicted have either admitted [to homosexual activities] or someone testified against them. Without testimonies, there was no sentence," said Fawzi Hagan, a lawyer representing a number of defendants.
Sherif Farahat, believed to have been the group's leader, received the longest sentence--five years of hard labor for debauchery, contempt of religion, falsely interpreting the Koran and exploiting Islam to promote deviant ideas.
Local and international human rights groups criticized the trial. Amnesty International accused Egypt of persecuting people for their sexual orientation and said the type of court that tried the case, the Emergency State Security Court, was not independent.