Two years after receiving refugee protection from the Canadian government, the trauma and pain were finally too much for Sara Hegazy, an Egyptian LGBTQ activist who was imprisoned and tortured in her country before she could flee.
At the age of 30, Hegazy decided to take her own life last Sunday, leaving a note asking her family and friends to forgive her for not having been able to find “redemption” or the strength to endure the pain.
“To my siblings — I tried to find redemption and failed, forgive me,” Hegazy’s handwritten letter said, according to Al Jazeera. “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 charged by the Egyptian government prosecutor with “promoting sexual deviance and debauchery” after raising the LGBTQ pride flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in September 2017.
Along with dozens of other people, the activist was arrested by security forces and spent three months in prison before being released on bail, but not before being humiliated and abused during her incarceration, “which resulted in a failed suicide attempt,” the media explained.
While homosexuality is not declared illegal in Egypt, Hegazy’s arrest was part of the government’s zero tolerance campaign to end political support for the rights of the LGBTQ community in the country. Other young people who posted photos on social networks during the Mashrou’ Leila concert with the rainbow flag were even threatened with death.
According to Dalia Abdel Hameed from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human rights organization, more than 100 people are believed to have been arrested after the concert and charged with misdemeanors, she told NPR.
“The law is ambiguous enough to allow the judges to punish people for their sexual orientations and sexual practices, and sometimes even for their perceived orientations,” Abdem Hameed added. “The worst wave of the crackdown happened after the Mashrou’ Leila concert.”
In fact, the most serious criminal charges were leveled against Hegazy, being the first time a state security court was used to prosecute homosexuality cases.
Hegazy was the eldest of four children in a conservative middle-class family in Cairo. With a degree from the Thebes Academy in Information Systems, and after her father’s early death, the young woman helped her mother look after her siblings by working as an IT specialist with an Egyptian firm that was forced to fire her after she was arrested a week after the concert.
According to NPR, Hegazy spent three months in a women’s prison awaiting trial, subjected to nine days of solitary confinement, without permission to exercise outdoors.
“I left this experience after three months with a very intense, serious case of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder],” Hegazy told the media. “Prison killed me. It destroyed me.”
After her release, Hegazy was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where she was diagnosed with severe depression, with episodes of hallucinations.
Once she was able to flee to Canada, terror followed in her footsteps.
Sara Hegazy’s legacy is much more than a flag raised above a crowd; it is evidence that the struggle continues, and that the rights of the LGBTQ community are anything but guaranteed.