On Tuesday, July 28th, Lebanese police closed down “Cinema Plaza” Movie Theater in the Burj Hammoud neighborhood of the capital Beirut. The movie theater, which is a known cruising spot for gay men, had been closed three times already. However this time, the police arrested 36 people including the theater’s owner.
The detainees were taken to a notorious police station in central Beirut where they were subjected to anal tests to verify if they had had anal sex. Homosexuality is still theoretically illegal in Lebanon and punishable by Lebanese law with up to one year imprisonment.
After conducting the tests, all men were released except for three whose tests were “positive” for having receptive anal sex. These tests have been banned in most countries of the world and they’re considered demeaning measures and a violation of basic human rights by international LGBT organizations.
The owner of the movie theater also remained in custody and might face criminal charges under Lebanon’s public morality laws
As for the Lebanese media, they didn’t remain silent on the incident and took contradicting stands regarding it. The Lebanese Broadcasting Company (LBC) mentioned the incident in its news broadcast under the title “Republic of Shame” which discussed the topic among other more general ones such as electricity outages and the increasing negligence of national security.
“Al-Nahar” newspaper published an article about the subject as well. It stated that both the Lebanese Association of Physicians and the Ministry of Justice issued two official statements condemning the tests, both scientifically and morally, and demanding Lebanese police to halt their usage immediately.
On the other hand, the Lebanese Murr TV (MTV) satellite channel described the detainees as “perverts and sodomites” and applauded their arrest and the closure of the theater. This is the second time the channel declares its homophobic stand. Earlier this year, an episode of a popular show on the channel showed the faces of several gay men in a public cruising spot in Tripoli without hiding their identities. This outraged LGBT rights activists in the small conservative country who called the actions “unprofessional” and “unethical”.
Sharbel Maydaa, the executive director of Helem, an LGBT organization in Lebanon, criticized in a public statement the arrest of the men and called on Lebanese authorities to release all detainees immediately and to ban the anal tests they were subjected to.
As a sign of solidarity with the arrested men, Helem organized a demonstration opposite to Palace of Justice in Beirut, an initiative never before seen in the Middle East. Participants held banners calling for the release of the detainees and the official legalization of homosexuality in Lebanon.
written and translated by: Adam Domari