Libya dominated the headlines last year but the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population of the country received very little attention internationally.
I interviewed Khaleed, a 31-year-old LGBT activist about his life in the North African country. In this first part he talks about his life before the overthrow of Muammar el-Gadaffi. Later this week he’ll be speaking to GSN about what has changed and what hasn’t since the revolution.
‘There are absolutely no groups, organisations or even individuals in Libya that speak publicly about gay rights, the subject itself is a social and religious taboo,’ Khaleed says. ‘But this doesn’t mean that LGBT people do not exist, on the contrary some people are known and recognised as gay within their communities.
‘Libyan law has a penal code against “men having sex with each other” which could lead to a five-years imprisonment [Section 407.4 of the Libyan constitution]. However, I never heard of publicly documented cases of men being charged under this penal code. And, to my disappointment no efforts were made by any human rights or LGBT rights organisations either to investigate potential cases, nor discuss LGBT rights in Libya.’
In fact the only documented case to my knowledge was one I reported on for Gay Middle East on 25 December 2010 when two men were arrested for ‘indecent acts’, with minimal information and despite many efforts no further information regarding this case was obtained.
Most LGBT people use the internet in Libya to socialise, exchange ideas and arrange to meet – especially through the gay social networking site Manjam, its one of the few ways available for them to explore their identities and sexuality. Yet even here, in virtual cyberspace, they are not safe.
Kahleed says: ‘My personal experience as a gay man in Libya hasn’t been easy. I was investigated by policemen for having an online profile on Manjam. Officers from the internal security agency during Gaddafi’s regime came to my home and outed me to my family which caused huge problems. I took me over two long years before I managed to work things out with them.
‘I was interrogated by the criminal investigation bureau for thirty long minutes, but which seemed like eternity. I was then “ordered” to stop meeting people through Manjam because “there are people there who have contacts with foreign intelligence networks”.
‘After the investigation I removed my previous profile but stayed in touch with all the contacts I have made before. But to my horror I found out that the government’s security agency was monitoring my calls and online activities. Furthermore, they hacked into my personal email and showed all my correspondence to my mother, which made me refrain from accessing any LGBT and political online sites for a while.’
For all the pious talking by politicians in the West about liberating Libya, Khaleed wants to underline the following: ‘I just want to say something to readers in Europe and North America, the technology to monitor the internet and entrap people like me fighting for human rights unfortunately comes from governments and companies in the west.’
Khaleed is not entirely sure why his internet accounts were hacked and investigated but he has his suspicion: ‘It seems to me as a police response to previous commentary I made about human rights in Libya, and because of my participation with several liberal and secular discussions on websites that were considered to by anti-regime. The reason I feel this way is because I have heard of no similar investigation been or being made against some of my friends or acquaintances.’
In part two, I speak with Khaleed about the revolution and his hopes and fears for the new Libya.