Egypt reduces sentences in same-sex wedding case

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CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian appeals court on Saturday upheld the conviction of eight men for "inciting debauchery" for appearing in an alleged same-sex wedding video, but reduced their sentences from three to one year in prison, a court official said.

The court didn't immediately give a reason for reducing the sentences handed down last month. A detailed verdict is expected in the coming days. The court official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The eight men were convicted based on an Internet video showing two men exchanging rings and embracing among cheering friends at a party on a Nile boat.

Rights activists say 2014 is the worst year in a decade for Egypt's gay community, with at least 150 men arrested or put on trial in connection with their alleged homosexuality.

Egyptian law doesn't explicitly prohibit homosexuality, so the defendants are tried for "debauchery" — a charge normally reserved for prostitution. In conservative Egypt, which is majority Muslim with a sizable Christian minority, homosexuality is a taboo for both communities.

The latest crackdown took a dramatic turn when a private TV station filmed a police raid on a Cairo bathhouse earlier this month, showing images of half-naked men being escorted by the police as they covered their faces. The 26 men were swiftly referred to trial, which opened last Sunday.

Activists have cast the arrests as part of a widening crackdown on personal freedoms following last year's military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, and an attempt by authorities to boost their credentials as guardians of public morality.

Since 2013, hundreds of Morsi supporters have been killed in clashes with security forces and thousands have been jailed. Police have also gone after non-Islamist activists for violating a draconian protest law enacted last year, imprisoning some of the leading activists from the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

On Saturday, a Cairo prosecutor referred a prominent columnist to trial for insulting religion because of a post on social media in which she criticized the public slaughter of sheep during the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God, a story that appears in different forms in the Quran and the Bible.

Columnist and author Fatma Naaot denied in a Facebook post that her comments were meant as insult.

Naaot said she is ready to pay the price demanded from "bearers of the torch of enlightenment" by those who seek to spread "darkness." She also posted an image of herself with a bloodied hand clutching her hair, with the caption: "So be it, slaughter Fatma Naaot."

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