Armed religious vigilantes are rounding up LGBTIs at checkpoints around Lebanon and passing them over to the police where they are beaten and humiliated.
In one case, a gay male couple were taken to a police station to be mocked and punched. They now face trial for homosexuality.
A trans woman was arrested, spat on, tied to a chair for three days and asked for sex by police who were interrogating her.
Unofficial armed groups have added their own checkpoints to official ones. The country is trying to improve security in the face of the threat from the fighting in Syrian, including the al-Nusra Front, part of al-Qaeda, and Islamic State.
At checkpoints, people’s phones are searched because they believe IS, terrorism groups and other militants in the Syrian civil war may have particular music or even videos of killing on the cell phones.
But this is also leading to the police and vigilantes identifying LGBTI people – from personal messages, apps and browsing history.
LGBTI group Proud Lebanon has condemned the round-up.
Bertho Makso, Proud Lebanon’s director, told GSN the general security crackdown has led to more arbitrary arrests – even though it’s not actually targeted at gay or trans people.
In some of the known cases since the start of the year:
- A gay couple were arrested by the armed religious militants and handed over to the police. They were mocked and beaten in custody. They were eventually handed over the morality police station in Habesh, a facility upgraded by the UK which handles drugs, prostitution and homosexuality. They are now awaiting trial for homosexuality.
- A Syrian trans woman was arrested on the Corniche, Beirut’s seaside promenade. She says she was taken to Ramlet el Bayda police station where interrogators stripped her and tied her to a chair for three days. One officer started to take off his clothes and asked her for sex. If she had agreed it would have been used in evidence against her. She was released and given asylum by Canada.
- The Lebanese Army conducted a series of raids in a house used by gay and trans refugees, in Jounieh, a northern suburb of Beirut. They were acting on complaints form neighbors. They found nude photos on the residents’ cell phones but mostly ignored it. Eventually, one man was arrested and held for several days.
- And in the latest case reported on Friday, vigilantes arrested a group of men who were working as security guards and building caretakers, in a southern suburb of Beirut. The men, mostly Syrians, are accused of sodomy. Officials said they were a ‘homosexual cell’ – the word ‘cell’ appears to have been chosen to make them sound like terrorists and imply they are conspiring with each other.
Makso told GSN: ‘It is good the authorities’ are providing extra security for Lebanon’s citizens. But implementing these measures shouldn’t be arbitrarily and unfair when it comes to targeting LGBTI individuals.
‘At the moment, LGBTIs caught up in this get sent to the police. We are encouraging people just to release them. It’s terrorists they should be looking for, not innocent gay and trans people.
‘Lebanon told the United Nations it would only fine people under Section 534 of the Penal Code which has been used to criminalize homosexuality, not imprison them. But while that law exists, these abuses will continue.
‘That’s why it’s important for Lebanon to scrap 534.’