On the ninth of August, Lebanese police, from the Hbeish police station, which has formerly been criticised for using the anal probe test to investigate human sexuality, arrested 27 men in a Beiruti bathhouse, Agha Hammam, in the Hamra-Concord district of Beirut. The police have reported that all men were unarmed and that the police had arrested the men based on tip-off information from a previously arrested gentleman, who claimed that Agha Hammam was a meeting place for men seeking to have sex with other men. The raid, according to Helem, the Arab World’s first LGBT rights organisation, is the largest since the Borj Hammoud cinema raid in 2013.
Whilst the anal test has been used by this particular police station before, despite the fact it runs against the Lebanese Order of Physicians’ (LOP) Code of Conduct, the police have announced that, thankfully, it was not inflicted upon these unfortunate men. However, Colonel Tony Haddad of the police has claimed that the sexual orientation of 24 of the men has been ‘confirmed’, whereas 3 of the men have been described ‘not gay’.
Despite the branding of the majority of these man as ‘Luwat’ by such media outlets as MTV Lebanon (translating to ‘fags’, in English), there is no proof that any sexual intercourse or activity was taking place at the time of the arrest. The owner, employees and all the clientele present at the time were arrested. The clientele remain in custody.
A coalition of 5 advocacy groups – Helem, The Arab Foundation for Freedom and Equality (AFE), The Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH), M-Coalition and Marsa Sexual Health Clinic – have come together and released a strong position statement, saying: “we denounce this incident as a case of homophobic practice that aims to police the sexual rights and liberties of the individuals involved… We call on the General Prosecutor and Hbeish police station to respect the dignity of the detainees and their rights to their (sexual) bodies.”
Legal Agenda, a human rights organisation in Beirut, have announced that the men have been held longer than is legally allowed by the Lebanese Penal Code, for, under Article 47, they may only be held for 48 hours, which is renewable once. However, under Article 105, crimes which are punishable by only one year in jail do not apply. The men are understood, however, not to be being charged with the standard Article 531, which condemns homosexual intercourse as ‘unnatural’, but, rather to be being charged with Article 521, which condemns public indecency.
Sarah Wansa, of Legal Agenda, told Al-Akhbar (a Lebanese daily newspaper), that they [Legal Agenda] no longer consider homosexuality to be a crime punishable under Article 534 because of its designation of homosexuality as ‘unnatural’ – a claim which LebMASH has been stridently fighting against through its seminars around Lebanon.
There have been two precedents where homosexuality has not been punished by Lebanese judges. However, because Lebanese law was based on the French Civil Law system, rather than the English Common Law system, these precedents do not change future rulings, meaning that homosexuals will still be at risk of prosecution under Article 534 even if it is no longer applied to homosexuality.