Grindr, the world’s most popular gay dating app, sent a warning to all of its users in Egypt this week following reports that dozens of LGBTQ people had been arrested in the country over the weekend.
“We have been alerted that Egyptian police is actively making arrests of gay, bi, and trans people on digital platforms,” the warning message, first sent on Monday, says. “They are using fake accounts and have also taken over accounts from real community members who have already been arrested and had their phones taken.”
The message, which Grindr said has been pushed to users hourly since Monday, concludes by advising to, “Please take extra caution both online and offline, including with accounts that may have seemed legitimate in the past.”
Patrick Lenihan, Grindr’s head of global communications, told NBC News the company decided to issue the warning after LGBTQ advocacy groups in Egypt reported to them that approximately 35 to 40 LGBTQ individuals had been arrested in the Muslim-majority country over the weekend.
“Grindr is working with groups on the ground in Egypt to make sure our users have up to date information on how to stay safe, and we are pushing international organizations and governments to demand justice and safety for the Egyptian LGBTQ community,” Lenihan said in an email, though he declined to provide the names of the advocacy groups they are working with to protect the safety of their members.
Neither the U.S. State Department nor the Embassy of Egypt in Washington, D.C., immediately responded to requests for comment about the alleged entrapments and arrests in Egypt. The United States has provided Egypt with over $50 billion in military and $30 billion in economic assistance since 1978, according to the State Department’s website.
When LGBTQ people are arrested in Egypt, they are typically charged with violating the country’s “debauchery” and “prostitution” laws, said Afsaneh Rigot, a Harvard Law School researcher who has studied arrests of LGBTQ people in Egypt. Violations could amount to monetary charges or yearslong prison sentences, Rigot said.
But as authorities have utilized social media and dating apps to arrest LGBTQ people in recent years, Rigot added, they have also more frequently charged them with violating the country’s cyber and telecommunications laws.
“That means that it’s higher sentences, more number of charges and a higher likelihood of getting those sentences, because those cyber laws and telecommunication laws are very vague,” Rigot said. “So after the point of arrest, there are a combination of charges being used against folks.”
Lenihan said that Grindr, in partnership with local advocacy groups, frequently sends users in Egypt general safety warnings, but this week’s warning is more specific and is being shared more often.
He added that Grindr’s social justice division, Grindr for Equality, has been working closely with international LGBTQ organizations to implement safety features and warnings for users in dozens of countries where it is not safe to be openly LGBTQ.
“Many of the safety features that we’ve developed, we developed first in Egypt,” he said. “It’s actually one of the worst places when it comes to police persecution.”
Lenihan added that authorities in Egypt are using “numerous social media platforms” to target LGBTQ people, and he encouraged other platforms operating in the country to share similar safety messages.
In recent years, human rights advocates have been documenting the entrapment of LGBTQ people by Egyptian authorities through various social media platforms and dating apps. A 2020 report by Human Rights Watch documented the “arbitrary arrests” and persecution of 15 LGBTQ people in the country between 2017 and 2020.
A subsequent report by the international rights group released last month found that, in addition to Egypt, similar apprehensions of LGBTQ people have been made in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia.
Based on 120 interviews — including with 90 LGBTQ people affected by digital targeting — the report found that government authorities and private actors entrapped 40 LGBTQ people in the five nations between 2017 and 2022. Researchers also found that the apprehensions of LGBTQ people were most pronounced in Egypt, with 29 of the 40 arrests or “persecutions” made in the Northern African country.
Homosexuality is still criminalized in 67 countries and jurisdictions, according to Human Dignity Trust, a global advocacy group for LGBTQ rights. On Wednesday, Uganda’s parliament doubled down on its criminalization of same-sex relations, passing a first-of-its-kind measure that would forbid people from even identifying as LGBTQ. Ugandans who have gay sex would be sentenced to life in prison if the legislation becomes law.