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Lebanon NGOs condemn arrest of 27 over 'homosexual acts'

AFP , Wednesday 13 Aug 2014
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A group of Lebanese NGOs has condemned local police for arresting 27 men at a Beirut bathhouse over allegations of homosexual acts and "public indecency".

In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, the groups said 27 men were being held by police after being arrested at a Beirut hammam on August 9 and questioned about their sexual orientation.

The groups, including Lebanese gay rights NGO Helem, said those arrested included the bathhouse owner, his employees and several clients.

"The raid followed the arrest of an individual who pointed to the Agha Hammam as a gathering place for men who are seeking sexual encounters with other men," the statement said.

The general prosecutor told the groups that the men could face charges of "public indecency," although he was "not interested" in charging them with violating Lebanon's controversial Article 534, which prohibits sexual relations that "contradict the laws of nature".

Gay and human rights groups have campaigned for the abolition of the article, which they say is used to discriminate against homosexuals.

Police told the groups that "investigators were able to obtain confirmations from some of the detainees concerning their sexual orientation," though they insisted no force was used.

The statement from the groups said no public sex act was taking place at the time of the police raid on the bathhouse and "the investigation at the police station revolved mainly around the detainees' alleged homosexuality."

"We denounce this incident as a case of homophobic practice that aims to police the sexual rights and liberties of the individuals involved," the groups said.

They called on the general prosecutor and the police holding the men to respect their dignity and warned against the use of a controversial "anal test" often used by police in Lebanon to determine homosexuality in men.

The tests have been denounced by human rights groups as abusive and described as scientifically groundless by medical professionals.

Lebanon is considered the most liberal country in the Arab world on the question of gay rights, with Beirut-based Helem the only NGO to advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in the Arab world.

But the country's laws remain conservative, as does much of society on the question of homosexual relations, and police have regularly rounded up gay men at nightclubs and other gay-friendly venues.

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