NEW YORK—Egypt’s arrest of seven concertgoers for “promoting sexual deviancy”—for acts such as waving rainbow flags and posting comments about the concert on Facebook—is an unjustifiable attack on free expression, PEN America said today.

On September 22, the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila—whose lead singer is openly gay—performed a concert in Cairo. Photos and video of the concert showed concertgoers waving the rainbow flag, a symbol commonly associated with gay rights. On Monday September 25, Egypt’s Prosecutor-General ordered an investigation; later that day, police arrested seven people for “promoting sexual deviancy”. One of those arrested was reportedly detained for allegedly posting approvingly about the concert on Facebook, while others reportedly were detained for allegedly waving the rainbow flag.

The New York Times has reported that an Egyptian prosecution official has stated that the seven arrested men would undergo a medical examination to determine if they have had anal sex. Such forced medical examinations are acknowledged by human rights groups to constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment which may amount to torture.

“Arrested for waving a flag. Arrested for posting on Facebook. These are wholly unjustifiable violations of the right to freedom of expression, and reports that those arrested may be subjected to demeaning and degrading examinations are especially shocking,” said James Tager, Senior Manager of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “PEN America calls upon the Egyptian authorities to release these seven concertgoers and to drop this investigation immediately.”

In 2016 PEN America honored Egyptian author Ahmed Naji, who was jailed in February 2016 for “violating public modesty” after the publication of his novel The Use of Life, with the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. PEN America remains concerned about Egypt’s ongoing crackdown on free expression, in particular the targeting of journalists and bloggers and censorship on the Internet.  


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator:, +1.646.981.0685