Lebanese NGOs Wednesday called for the immediate release of 27 men who were detained on charges of being gay after police received a tipoff that a group of men were at a Turkish-style hammam in a Beirut neighborhood.
On Aug. 9, a unit with the judicial police’s Moral Protection Bureau raided the Agha hammam after a detainee told police at the Hbeish police station in Hamra that gay men sought “sexual encounters with other men” there, the NGOs said in a joint statement.
Police arrested the owner of the hammam, the employees and several clients. All clients remain in custody at the detention center, the statement said, quoting a colonel at the police station.
The case was referred to prosecutor Bilal Dinnawi, who informed the NGOs that the prosecution “is not interested in charging the detainees” under Article 534, but that they could be charged for public indecency.
The NGOs also said that the colonel informed them that none of the detainees were subject to physical or verbal abuse, or the anal exam, a widely discredited “test” for homosexuality, which remains a criminal offense in Lebanon.
“We made contact with the detainees who expressed their discomfort and confusion regarding the process of the investigation and the charges. It has also come to our attention that at the time of the raid no public sexual act was taking place at the Agha hammam, and the investigation at the police station revolved mainly around the detainees’ alleged (homo)sexuality,” the statement said.
“We denounce this incident as a case of homophobic practice that aims to police the sexual rights and liberties of the individuals involved and we call on the General Prosecutor and Hbeish police station to respect the dignity of the detainees and their rights to their (sexual) bodies,” it added.
“We call for the immediate release of all the detainees from under charges which violate their sexual and bodily rights and integrity.”
The statement was a the collaborative work of Helem, Arab Foundation for Freedom and Equality (AFE), M-Coalition, Marsa Sexual Health Clinic and the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH).