NEW YORK, Sept. 28 /PRNewswire/ -- In early 2003, Wissam Abyad was sentenced to 15 months in prison in Egypt on baseless charges of "habitual debauchery," a vague, public morality law used in Egypt to criminalize homosexuality. On January 16, 2003, Wissam went to meet a man he had been communicating with on the internet in Cairo. Instead, Wissam was met by police officers and forced to stand trial. The email messages he had exchanged with the man, who was apparently a police officer or government informant, were used as evidence against him at trial. Wissam was sentenced to 15 months, and the conviction was later upheld on appeal. Last spring, after being released from prison in Egypt, Wissam came to the United States to speak out against the human rights violations which are being committed against gay men in Egypt. Wissam toured the United States speaking on behalf of Amnesty International and Human Right Watch. Those organizations put Wissam in contact with Immigration Equality, a non-profit organization which advocates for equality under U.S. immigration law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and HIV-positive immigrants. Immigration Equality told Wissam that he might be able to obtain asylum in the United States based on the persecution he had suffered because of his sexual orientation. Immigration Equality referred Wissam to the Community Services Team at the law firm of Holland & Knight, LLP, which agreed to represent him pro bono. The team included attorneys Mark Smith, Christopher Nugent, Zachary Potter and paralegal Ruthe Canter. "After everything I've been through, I'm so thankful to have this opportunity to begin a new life here in the United States," Wissam said earlier. "I'm so happy to have had such dedicated lawyers working on my case. Between the support Amnesty gave me, and Immigration Equality, and now Holland & Knight, I feel very fortunate." "We're very pleased that Wissam received this favorable decision. He's a remarkably courageous person, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him," said Wissam's attorney, Mark Smith, of Holland & Knight. Wissam's status as an asylee allows him to remain legally in the United States and to apply for legal permanent residence in one year. He and his partner Derek intend to continue their human rights work on behalf of other LGBT prisoners of conscience. Immigration Equality (formerly the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force) was founded in 1994 and advocates for equality under U.S. immigration law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and HIV-positive immigrants, their families, friends and loved ones. For more information on Immigration Equality, please visit www.immigrationequality.org.
SOURCE Immigration Equality