An Egyptian gay rights activist arrested in Cairo for raising the LGBT rainbow flag at a concert in 2017 and subsequently imprisoned and tortured has taken her own life, the Times of Israel reported on Tuesday.
Sara Hegazy’s death at the age of 30 on Sunday was confirmed by her lawyer, Amro Mohammed. “She committed suicide,” Mohammed told Agence France-Presse.
According to the Times, Egyptian police arrested Hegazy in 2017 after she raised the rainbow pride flag of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community during a music concert in Cairo. The concert was put on by the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila, known for its openly gay lead singer. Following the public display of gay pride, considered a criminal act of “debauchery” in the majority Muslim country, Hegazy was jailed for three months.
According to the report, several LGBT activists say Hegazy told them she endured torture and sexual abuse during her detention. A successful online campaign demanding Hegazy’s release saw her released on bail in January 2018. Later that year, the young woman sought asylum in Canada, where she remained in exile until her death over the weekend.
According to Amnesty International, Hegazy was found unresponsive at her home in Canada on Sunday, alongside a suicide note which, the organization says, referred to her detention: “The experience was harsh and I am too weak to resist it. Forgive me.”
Independent news site Egyptian Streets shared on Sunday what appeared to be a photo of Hegazy’s suicide letter, and reported an expanded text: “To my siblings – I tried to find redemption and failed, forgive me. To my friends – the experience [journey] was harsh and I am too weak to resist it, forgive me. To the world – you were cruel to a great extent, but I forgive.”
Although homosexuality is not explicitly outlawed in Egypt, it is considered morally corrupt within the country’s strict Islamic society. According to the report, Egyptian authorities have previously charged suspected LGBT people with “debauchery.” The takeover of the country by current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who overthrew the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi in 2013, has done little to expand the rights of LGBT people, religious minorities, and others vulnerable to radical Islamist violence.
In 2017, Egypt’s top media body issued a decree “banning the appearance of homosexuals or promotion of their slogans,” which it said was justified because “[h]omosexuality is a disease and a shame which should be hidden till it is treated, not promoted.”
Egyptian media – including TV, film, music, and literature – dominates popular culture in the Arabic-speaking world, making the 2017 decree banning depictions of gay expression across mediums a significant development with repercussions throughout the Muslim world.