Lebanon has banned activists from re-entering the country after attending a sexuality conference

Lebanon Pride flag

Activists and academics who attended a gender and sexuality conference in Lebanon have been banned by the government from re-entering the country.

The NEDWA conference, organised for the fifth year by the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, aims to allow activists to share knowledge between countries and develop strategies on LGBT+ issues.

When it was announced the conference was due to be held in Beirut last year, authorities tried to shut it down.

On the third day, General Security officers – the intelligence branch of Lebanese security forces – arrived at the hotel where the conference was held to question organisers and take down the details of everyone in attendance.

Now, those details are being used to impose a collective ban on people who were at the conference from re-entering the country, Human Rights Watch said.

Since the conference, six people who took part have tried to return to Lebanon and have been refused entry without being given a reason.

Lama Fakih, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The Lebanese authorities’ actions against the conference is a blatant attempt to restrict the space for free speech and assembly.

“These collective sanctions undermine the rights of advocates who are committed to advancing equality in Lebanon and in the region.”

Lebanon gay street art

A mural on a wall of a building in Ashrafiyeh, on the eastern outskirts of Beirut. The writing in Arabic reads: “I hear your silence”. (JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty)

Lebanon said the ban will prevent “the dismal collapse of society”.

Three of the people denied entry have filed lawsuits to lift the ban, but Lebanon’s General Security has refused, and has confirmed that the ban is because of participation in the NEDWA conference.

The response letter from the director of general security Abbas Ibrahim, provided by Human Rights Watch, states: “The preservation of the security of family and society makes it imperative to take immediate and rapid measures to avoid the dismal collapse of society and prevent and confront any imported vice, and to grant the competent authorities, in particular the General Directorate of General Security represented by its director, the authority to take all required measures to prevent any act that irritates and disrupts the security and stability of society.”

In the same year as the conference, police arrested the organiser of the annual Beirut Pride festival, forcing the cancellation of 2018 Pride event.

There are no laws in Lebanon to protect LGBT+ people from discrimination. Section 534 of the Lebanese penal code prohibits having sexual relations that “contradict the laws of nature”.