Egyptian LGBT activist Sara Hegazy, 30, has been found dead in her Canadian home after an apparent suicide.
Al Jazeera reported today that Hegazy, who had been living in exile in Canada since 2018 after her imprisonment and torture in Egypt, left behind a handwritten suicide note. The note’s authenticity was later confirmed by Hegazy’s lawyer, Khaled Al-Masry.
Translated from the original Arabic, it reads:
“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.”
Hegazy Was Arrested for Raising the Rainbow ‘Gay Pride’ Flag at a Concert
Al Jazeera and the Middle Eastern Monitor reported that Hegazy was arrested in Egypt in 2017 for raising the rainbow flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert. The lead singer of the Lebanese rock band, Hamed Sinno, is gay.
Hegazy was charged by authorities with “promoting sexual deviancy and debauchery,” according to Al Jazeera.
NPR reported that more than 100 people were believed to have been arrested after the concert, but the most serious charges were laid against Ahmed Alaa, a man who raised a flag at the concert, and Hegazy.
Hegazy told NPR that her three months in prison “Destroyed her,” and that she developed post-traumatic stress disorder from her time in jail.
She shared with NPR that she was also fired from her job as an IT specialist with an Egyptian firm after her arrest.
She was working as an IT specialist with an Egyptian firm when she was arrested, and says after her arrest, her boss was ordered by state security to fire her.
‘Anything that involves national security, they make sure to destroy the person’s life,’ said Hegazy. ‘For them, I was a criminal — someone who was seeking to destroy the moral structure of society.’
At the police station, authorities asked whether she was a virgin and why she no longer wore a head scarf. Hegazy said they incited other female detainees to grope her.
Hegazy spent three months in a women’s prison, awaiting trial. She said the other prisoners included sex workers and a woman who was thrown in jail because she couldn’t pay a $3 debt. After nine days in solitary confinement, Hegazy was put in a cell with two other women who were ordered not to talk to her. She was not allowed to join other prisoners for exercise outdoors.
‘I left this experience after three months with a very intense, serious case of PTSD. … Prison killed me. It destroyed me.’
‘Egypt has Failed Sara’: Even After Asylum in Canada, Escape Seemed Impossible
Hegazy shared her mental health struggles with NPR, including her diagnosis of depression, her hallucinations and her release from a psychiatric hospital.
She told NPR that she had tried suicide by overdose and would consider trying it again. She foresaw a “dark future” for herself if she couldn’t leave Egypt, she said.
Even after her escape to and asylum in Canada, she continued to struggle with ongoing mental health issues, according to Pink News.
Social media paid tribute to Hegazy’s life and activism:
— Reem Abdellatif (@Reem_Abdellatif) June 14, 2020
— Bianca Nozaki-Nasser (@lifewithBianca) June 14, 2020
— Nadeen Haidar (@nadeenhaidar) June 14, 2020
Sara Hegazy, an Egyptian activist who was jailed and tortured after she raised a rainbow #Pride flag at infamous @Mashrou3Leila 2017 concert in Egypt, has committed suicide in Canada where she was living in asylum. Absolutely devastating & tragic. Rest in power, Sara. #سارة_حجازي pic.twitter.com/297EnGbKJS
— Wirjil (@Wirjil) June 14, 2020
Rasha Younes, a researcher at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Programme at Human Rights Watch, told Middle East Eye that Egypt had “failed” and “alienated” Sara. “They forced her out of her country; they are responsible for her suffering,” she said.
In an article originally published in Arabic on Mada Masr in September 2018, Hegazy outlined the many horrors she endured in prison, including being subjected to electroshock therapy, sexual assault and solitary confinement.
Middle East Eye reported that Hegazy’s diagnosis of PTSD after leaving prison may have been the precursor to her suicide.
‘I suffered from severe depression, PTSD, tension, anxiety and panic attacks, with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) that led to memory problems, before I was forced to travel for fear of arrest again,’ she wrote in the article for Mada Masr in September 2018.
‘In exile, I lost my mom, then I had another ECT treatment in Toronto, two suicide attempts, stuttering, panic, fear, and attempts to avoid talking about imprisonment, the inability to walk out of the room, along with a greater deterioration in memory.’
Hegazy’s Suicide Came as the U.S. Supreme Court Ruled in Favor of LGBTQ Rights
BREAKING: In historic decision, Supreme Court rules Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, also applies to gay or transgender people. https://t.co/toaxlIw8Ju
— ABC News (@ABC) June 15, 2020
Hegazy’s death has occurred at the same time as a historic decision was made by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of gay rights.
The ruling extends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, to apply to sexual orientation and gender identity, ABC News reported.
According to CNN, the Supreme Court ruling, which was issued June 15, passed by a vote of 6 to 3 and was “written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four liberal justices.”
The opinion reads, in part:
An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.
There is simply no escaping the role intent plays here: Just as sex is necessarily a but-for cause when an employer discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees, an employer who discriminates on these grounds inescapably intends to rely on sex in its decision making.