Beirut Pride cancelled after organiser detained

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Lebanon is more tolerant than most Arab countries

The organiser of a gay pride week in Lebanon says authorities have forced him to cancel the remaining events.

Last year, Lebanon became the first Arab country to hold a gay pride week.

But the organiser of this year's Beirut Pride, Hadi Damien, says he was taken to a police station overnight after security services came to an event.

Mr Damien says he was asked to sign a pledge that he would cancel what was left of the week - which started on Saturday - in order to be released.

Lebanon is more tolerant than most Arab countries but lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people do still face sporadic police action.

The country's interior ministry has not commented on the case.

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The second Beirut Pride festival began with brunch celebrating parents who had not rejected their children when they came out as homosexuals and was due to include cultural events, talks and readings over the next nine days.

But on Monday night, Mr Damien was called by a venue and told that agents from the General Security directorate had stopped a reading of the script of a play about homophobic crimes, saying the event required approval from its bureau of censorship, according to a statement on the Beirut Pride website.

After arriving at the venue, Mr Damien was asked by "vice police" officers to accompany him to Hbeich police station, where he was informed that he would be detained overnight.

On Tuesday morning he was summoned for questioning and advised that he would be released if he signed a pledge promising to cancel forthcoming Beirut Pride events, according to the statement.

Mr Damien said he was warned that if he did not he would be referred to an investigative judge who would "interrogate me on the basis of articles pertaining to the incitement to immorality and to the breach of public morality for co-ordinating the activities".

He later told the BBC: "There's a lot of disappointment around the cancellation of Beirut pride. People first are concerned anticipating any upcoming crackdown."

Article 534 of Lebanon's penal code punishes "any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature" with up to one year in prison, and has been used to prosecute people suspected of homosexuality.

Media caption,
Is this a new dawn for Lebanon's LGBT community?

In recent years, authorities have conducted raids to arrest persons allegedly involved in same-sex conduct, some of whom were subjected to torture including forced anal examinations, according to Human Rights Watch.

However, judges have also begun to challenge article 543.

In 2014, one ruled that sex between a transgender woman and a man could not be perceived as "unnatural". And last year, another declared that "homosexuals have the right to have human or intimate relationships with any people they chose, without discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation".