Lebanon’s justice minister, Shakib Qortbawi, demanded earlier this morning (1 September) an end to the use of anal probe exams used find out if men are gay.
During an interview with the Lebanese paper Assafir, the minister said the anal probe exams must stop, whilst acknowledging that the judiciary is totally independent but requested they should listen to his and the Lebanese Medical Association’s opinion.
‘In Lebanon there will be no more anal tests.
‘The judiciary is independent but they should listen to us,’ he said.
Experts interpret the minister’s statement as drawing a line on a public debate that ensued in Lebanon following a case revealed by Gay Star News where 36 men were subjected to the tests - and were even forced to pay for them - after being arrested in a police raid on a porn cinema where men meet for gay sex.
The tests involve examining someone's anus to see if it has been penetrated but they are discredited as inaccurate and a form of torture.
The incident and the use of the anal probes exams was extensively criticised by the media and human rights groups.
In reaction the Lebanese Medical Association issued a circular memo demanding that doctors cease to conduct the anal probes. They warned that any doctor who attempts to conduct them will face disciplinary action.
However, Lebanon’s former public prosecutor, judge Saeed Mirza argued for the tests to continue, saying others should not interfere with the judiciary’s independence.
As a reaction, Helem the Lebanese LGBT advocacy organization, held a historic demonstration against gay anal probe tests in front of the Ministry of Justice and close to the public prosecutor’s office.
In addition Helem announced that their next step will be to lobby the Lebanese government and push for legal reform by repealing article 534 that prohibits having sexual relations ‘contradicting the laws of nature’. This is the law used against homosexuality, which is punishable by up to a year in prison.
Many renowned Lebanese political commentators argued against the tests and law, including Octavia Nassr.
On Thursday Lebanon’s renowned celebrity political commentator openly criticised the use of the tests. During his show broadcasted on the Lebanese LBC TV channel he stated that ‘in Lebanon some doctors conduct these shameful tests’, adding that the ‘results’ were often prearranged against suspects.
Mr Qortbawi's demand today is thus an attempt to draw a line on the public debate by saying that these tests should no longer take place in Lebanon from today.
Lebanese LGBT rights advocates welcomed the minister’s demand. Speaking with Gay Star News, Alan Beik, an independent Lebanese human rights and law advocate based in London said: ‘This is a great first step but we are still far from even basic LGBT rights.
‘We still wish that proper legal reform would take place, not just a government opinion.
‘This symbolic act and victory demonstrates how effective the media and social networking can be in galvanising support for our cause. We should use this momentum to push the issue further.’
Human Rights advocate and Helem founder Georges Azzi told Gay Star News: ‘This is great step in the right direction.
‘I hope more politicians will become aware, including the ministry of interior, of the need to modernize the legal system and remove this institutionalized violation of Human rights in Lebanon.
‘It is time politicians realize that we need to remove all articles in the penal code that invades people’s privacy, like article 534.’
Speaking with GSN, Bertho Makso, owner of Lebanon’s only gay friendly travel agency said: ‘This is an important achievement for the Lebanese LGBT community.
‘For the first time we can feel that something has been achieved when all the community stand united against human rights violations.
‘A big thank you should go to Helem and all activists, as well as the local and international media, who pressurised politicians to get to this point.’