Middle East

Lebanon rape law: Parliament abolishes marriage loophole

Protesters demanding the abolishment of article 522 of Lebanon's penal code take part in the 14th annual Beirut Marathon on 13 November 2016 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Women demanding the repeal of Article 522 protested at the Beirut Marathon last November

Lebanon's parliament has scrapped a law under which a rapist could be exempt from punishment if he married his victim, state media report.

Women's rights activists had long demanded that Article 522 of the penal code be repealed.

Their campaign was supported by the Minister for Women's Affairs, Jean Oghassabian, who said the law was like something "from the Stone Age".

Similar legislation has recently been swept away in both Tunisia and Jordan.

States retaining a comparable loophole include Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya and Syria.

Members of the Lebanese parliamentary committee for administration and justice agreed last December to submit a proposal to repeal Article 522.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri expressed his support for the measure at the time, but it took until Wednesday for a vote to be held.

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Media captionLebanese women dressed in bandages to protest against the law last year

Article 522 allowed for halting the prosecution or suspending the conviction of a person who had committed rape, kidnapping, or statutory rape if he married the victim.

One activist said the law allowed "for a second assault on a rape survivor's rights in the name of 'honour' by trapping her in a marriage with her rapist".

The women's rights group Abaad called the repeal of Article 522 a "triumph for the dignity of women" and thanked MPs for "strengthening the protection of women from all forms of violence".

But Kafa, another local rights group, said it was only a "partial victory".

A Facebook post warned that the effect of Article 522 "continues under Article 505, which involves sex with a minor who is 15 years of age, as it does through Article 518, which concerns the seduction of a minor with the promise of marriage".

Mr Oghassabian expressed similar concerns, writing on Twitter: "While we welcome the repeal of Article 552 of the penal code, we have reservations regarding keeping Articles 505 and 518. There are no exceptions for escaping punishment for rape."

The repeal came after years of campaigning by women's rights groups, including viral videos, a billboard showing a woman in a bloodied and torn gown with the caption "A white dress doesn't cover up rape", and an online petition.

In April, an art installation organised by Abaad saw 30 wedding dress strung up from nooses between the palm trees on Beirut's famous seafront.

Activists also want Lebanon's parliament to address the issue of marital rape.

Article 503 of the penal code defines the crime of rape as "forced sexual intercourse [against someone] who is not his wife by violence or threat". The 2014 law on domestic violence meanwhile makes threats or violence by a spouse to claim a "marital right to intercourse" a crime, but does not criminalize the non-consensual violation of physical integrity itself, according to Human Rights Watch.

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