Police in Lebanon ‘try to shut down LGBT conference’

Police reportedly attempted to close down a LGBT+ conference in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon.

Lebanese General Security officers tried to end the conference, called NEDWA, on September 29, according to Human Rights Watch.

Police disrupted the third day of the conference, and allegedly took details of all its participants, which included those from countries with repressive laws, including Egypt and Iraq.

(Arab Foundation For Freedoms and Equality/Facebook)

The annual four-day conference is organised by the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE), which advocates for LGBT+ rights.

The event was founded in 2013 and includes workshops on human rights, as well as LGBT+ speakers.

General Security officers, which work for the intelligence branch of Lebanese security forces, also questioned AFE executive director Georges Azzi, ordering him to cancel the conference and stop any activities related to it.

“General Security’s latest efforts to shut down an LGBT conference in Lebanon is an attack on freedom of assembly rights and an attempt to silence the voices of courageous activists,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Trying to intimidate NEDWA organizers and activists working in challenging circumstances throughout the Middle East and North Africa violates Lebanon’s obligations under international law.”

On Thursday (October 4), AFE held a press conference responding to the incident, in which Azzi was reported by the organisation as saying: “What happened during the weekend is a violation to freedoms.”

In a statement on Facebook announcing the press conference, AFE said: “We will be announcing details about all the attempts we faced to shut down NEDWA from religious and Lebanese authorities, recommendations and future steps.”

In the lead up to the conference, religious group Muslim Scholars Association accused NEDWA organisers of promoting homosexuality and drug abuse, calling for their arrest.

A general view shows Beirut skyline from its western waterfront side on June 21, 2012. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/GettyImages)

Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which bans sexual acts which “contradict the laws of nature,” making them punishable with one year in prison, has been used to prosecute LGBT+ people in the country.

However, in July, a Lebanese appeals court ruled that this law does not ban homosexuality, acquitting nine people prosecuted for having gay sex in 2017.

In May, Beirut Pride organiser Hadi Damien told PinkNews that he was threatened with immorality charges if the annual celebration was not cancelled.

Damien was held overnight at Hbeish police station in the capital before being released only after apparently being coerced into agreeing to cancel all Pride events.

Beirut Pride was launched in 2017, apparently as the first LGBT+ event of its kind in the Arab world.