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Lebanon police force gay porn cinema men to pay for anal probe exams

Three men remain in custody after 'testing positive' for gay sex using discredited anal probe exams. The incident has sparked a public debate in Lebanon about legalizing gay sex
Helem's poster calling for the immediate release of the detainees and condemning MTV's hate incitement.

The 36 men arrested at a gay porn cinema in Beirut have had to pay for an anal probe exam to be conducted on them, despite it being a form of torture.

According to Helem, the LGBT advocacy charity in Lebanon, 33 of the 36 men arrested on Saturday have now been released on bail but may still be charged and face a court case.

However, the incident has sparked widespread public concern in Lebanon and initiated a debate about making gay sex legal and reponsible media reporting of human rights issues.

The men were arrested in a police raid on Plaza Cinema, Beirut on Saturday (28 July) and the story was broken internationally by Gay Star News. The cinema was well known for airing porn films and being a place where men meet to have sex with other men.

All the men were forced to have a totally discredited anal probe exam by an unnamed doctor, who ‘determined’ that three of the men were gay.

Not only were all the men subjected to these anal probes, that Human Rights Watch previously denounced as akin to ‘acts of torture’, but were in addition forced to pay each LBP125,000 ($88 €72) for the procedure.

The two men who tested 'positive' for gay sex are still in custody and have been transferred from the Lebanese vice police station - Makhfar Hbeish to the tribunal detention facility. They are being held for alleged homosexuality in line with article 534 which punishes sexual acts that ‘contradict the laws of nature’, by up to a year in prison.

The third person still in custody is the owner of the cinema, which was closed down, may be charged with screening films and promoting ‘immorality’.

The records of the three men have been sent to the public prosecutor to prepare a case against them.

Helem is now working with its dedicated team of lawyers on how to best defend the three men as well as demand for the repeal of article 534.

The rest of the men are out on bail but may also face charges under article 534.

According to Helem, most of the men arrested are mature and come from poor and disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds including migrant workers and refuges from Syria and Iraq.

Charbel Maayda, Helem’s chairperson commented on this fact in his Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) TV interview: ‘Wealthy men can rent a house [for private sexual relations], while the poor are forced to frequent establishments which are not safe.’

LBC's coverage has been generally positive towards LGBT people and supportive of human rights.

Maayda also criticised Murr TV (MTV) for having aired Enta Horr program, hosted by celebrity Joe Maalouf, whose exposé on sex cinemas sparked the police action. Maayda accused him of incitement to homophobia and hate speech.

Maalouf claimed the cinemas were a ‘safe haven’ for ‘prostitution’, ‘perverts’ and ‘immorality’, and further alleged that they are under the ‘protection’ of authorities instead of being raided.

Maayda says this resulted in the arrests.

He further pointed that MTV follows conservative politics ‘attacking all marginalized groups including: LGBT, Palestinians, blacks and migrant workers.

‘MTV put the men who were arrested at serious risk, not only at the hands of the police, but also due to the consequences of being outed to their families.’

Meanwhile Helem has created a poster denouncing MTV and demanding the immediate release of the men still held in custody.

The arrests are also beginning to initiate a public political and legal debate. In an article in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, former justice minister, and prominent politician and lawyer Ibrahim Najjar condemned the use of the anal probe exams.

He said that he previously instructed courts to follow the 2009 ruling by Judge Mounir Suleiman that article 534 should not apply consensual homosexual relations.

He stated he also previously called for the repeal of the law. Instead he wants to make private consensual sexual relations (gay or straight) legal, and only criminalize public acts that offend morality. But he said this did not go forward due to opposition from within the Lebanese parliament.

The current justice minister, Chakib Kortbawi, stated that he had instructed police not to use anal probe tests. He therefore is surprised they were used in this case and has ordered the public prosecutor to open an investigation as to why they were used.

Increasing numbers of human rights and civil rights organisations are calling upon the government to repeal article 534, a move which could put unprecedented pressure on the Lebanese parliament.

The media in Lebanon has largely condemned the arrests and MTV’s conduct. The Lebanese LGBT media monitor Facebook page is providing an up-to-date summary of the debates and comments.

The critique has put MTV and on the defensive. Speaking with L’Orient le Jour, MTV’s executive director, Jihad Murr, denied responsibility: ‘The channel has nothing against homosexuality or the homosexual community. The program simply denounced the screening of porn films and the sexual acts in such places.’

MTV reportedly contacted Helem suggesting they try to correct the damage done by preparing a special program regarding LGBT rights in Lebanon.

Meanwhile Maalouf attempted to ward off mounting criticism by telling news service Now Lebanon that his exposé of the cinemas simply wanted to alert people to the 'mistreatment' of ‘teenagers’ who he claims, frequent them.

Lebanese LGBT activists, however, say the cinemas are frequented by older, poor men.

In addition Maalouf denied that his use of the words ‘perverts’ and ‘immorality’ amounts to him being homophobic, stating that he believes that the ‘rights of homosexuals’ should be ‘protected’.

Maalouf also criticised the anal probe tests saying that ‘it is a shame that the Lebanese government does not ban these tests. It gives Lebanon a bad image. It’s not just silly, but a crime.’

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