The Dark Side of Lebanon’s Antiquated Sex Laws

The news came as a great shock as it was the first time that these tests were carried out on a large number of persons at a police station. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Bassam Alkantar

Published Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rectal exams to prove homosexuality have been condemned by doctors, lawyers, and judges, yet are still administered by the Lebanese authorities. The procedure has come back to light after the recent Plaza Cinema incident in which 36 men were arrested under suspicion of homosexuality and subjected to the ordeal at a police station.

The weekend raid on the Plaza Cinema in Beirut by the vice squad of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) and the subsequent rectal probes 36 detainees were subjected to in order to prove their homosexuality, has been widely condemned by human rights, anti-torture, anti-homophobia and judicial reform organizations.

The news came as a great shock to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community in Lebanon, as it was the first time that these tests were carried out on a large number of persons at a police station.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar about the incident, Minister of Justice Shakib Qortbawi said he “had sent a memo two months ago to the attorney general urging him to halt random rectal examination procedures, after the issue was raised by human rights organizations.”

Following several media reports about subjecting the Plaza Cinema detainees to these tests, “I requested from acting public attorney, Judge Samir Hammoud, to launch an investigation into the incident and related details and circumstances,” Qortbawi announced.

Speaking about Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code which criminalizes “sexual intercourse contrary to nature,” he said that “the amendment of the Penal Code is on the table.”

“But, currently, the administration and justice committee in parliament is busy reviewing the Law of Criminal Procedures. The ministry’s representative is following up on this important legislative workshop, which is considered a priority in this phase,” Qortbawi continued.

The issue of these “tests of shame,” as critics call them, had been brought up recently by legal reform organization Legal Agenda in a seminar on 23 May 2012 focusing on homosexuality and virginity tests.

Several forensic doctors and lawyers argued that the tests are irrelevant from a medical perspective. Furthermore, they violate human rights and are tantamount to torture and violation of human dignity.

The seminar concluded in calling on the justice minister to request from the attorney general to put an end to such tests.

Legal Agenda sent a letter yesterday to the justice ministry requesting that attorney generals in all districts immediately suspend the procedures, leading to a moratorium on rectal exams.

Today, it will be sending another letter to the Order of Physicians in Beirut, to request that it instruct all forensic doctors to refrain from conducting these degrading tests.

In a phone call with Al-Akhbar, Charbel Maydaa, Executive Director of LGBT rights organization Helem, said the organization’s attorney Nizar Saghieh will be representing three of the defendants in the Plaza Cinema case.

“We still do not know how many persons remain detained, but three of them agreed to be defended by the organization,” Maydaa said.

He also held the Lebanese MTV channel morally responsible for the tragedy suffered by the victims of these invasive exams, whose psychological impact will remain with them for years.

Maydaa announced that Helem will be releasing a statement on MTV’s incitement of hate and racism, signed by several civil society activists, media personalities and intellectuals.

The statement will censure the presenter of MTV’s Inta Horr (You Are Free) Joe Maalouf for “the worst form of slander [against homosexuals], which either indicates a deliberate intent to injure or a high level of harmful ignorance.”

Al-Akhbar contacted Maalouf, who was in Spain and said he had been outside Lebanon for weeks. He denied responsibility for the vice squad raid on Cinema Plaza and said he has the legal right to sue anyone who slanders him in a discriminatory manner.

Maalouf declared that his lawyer will be filing a lawsuit against Helem member Georges Azzi who, he claimed, attacked him personally.

On the other hand, he defended his show’s portrayal of the situation in the two cinemas, in Tripoli and Beirut, that led them to be shut down by the police.

“I am proud of this and I will not apologize for it. Violating public morality is one thing and sexual freedom is another,” he maintained.

He added that the the show’s upcoming season will be shedding light on the issue of rectal examinations that “should be condemned and rejected.”

In the blogosphere, Abir Ghattas, who wrote a report on Cinema Plaza, condemned the “outing” of public figures, indicating that sexuality activists in Lebanon rejected such practices and opted for a democratic and civil struggle against homophobia.

Former justice minister Ibrahim Najjar said that forcing 36 persons to undergo rectal tests was “horrible.” He questioned how a human being can be subjected to such a procedure in the twenty-first century, stressing that personal space and bodily integrity should not be violated.

Concerning the abolition of Article 534, he explained that he had prepared a proposal to amend the Penal Code. “But I knew in advance that abolishing the criminalization of homosexuality would not be accepted in the cabinet.”

He called for a serious debate in Lebanon about the right to be different, as long as it does not violate public morality.

During his term, Najjar said that he had asked to disseminate and promote the verdict announced by Mounir Suleiman, a criminal judge in Batroun, in 2009 in a case where two men were being prosecuted under Article 534.

Elaborating on the concept of “contrariety to nature,” the decision was considered a legal precedent that could turn the tables on prevailing jurisprudence concerning Article 534.

Judge Suleiman deemed the concept open to change, “based on the mentality of society, its customs, and how much it can accept new natural patterns that had been unfamiliar or unacceptable [in the past].”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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