Friday, November 18, 2005

"Arrests in Beirut Gay Club"

The following story from HELEM, the Lebanese LGBT organization, was received and posted by Ahbab News on November 14.

Last night (12-11-05), 11 people were arrested at Acid nightclub. We don't know if there were any women among those taken in. They were charged with article 534 and are now in Hbeich. An emergency meeting was held in Helem on Sunday and a preliminary plan of action was put together following contact with our lawyers and a gathering of testimonies from people at Acid that night and a relative of one of the men arrested. Tomorrow, the parliamentary committee is holding its meeting with the Arab Human Rights Network and we have contacted parliamentarian Elias Attallah who will present our case at the meeting.

Our prime concern at the moment is to get the arrested people out as quickly as possible. Legally speaking, the arrests fall outside the scope of 534, which states explicitly that "moujama3a" (ie penetration) against nature is punishable by law, since the arrests happened on the presumption of homosexuality and not on any evidence of penetrative sex. This is the argument our lawyers are going to be using to push our case and get the people released.

Helem is going to issue an official press release on the arrests to be sent out to NGOs, the media, and other concerned bodies, as well as a list of ministers, parliamentarians, and other key actors that might be of help. We are not going to mobilize any international body at this time.

This is the first time such a raid on acid has resulted in mass arrests specifically for 534.

We will keep you updated if we find out more information.

In solidarity,


After reading the above article, I contacted a number of people in Lebanon. I have not heard back from Helem, yet. (I'm trying to give them time.) However, the story has been corroborated by a number of people. People have described that the men singled out were those that were either kissing or who were dressed effiminately. Acid nightclub remains shut down. At least one of the people arrested - a student at AUB's CAMES department - has been released. (AUB was involved in his case.) There have been suggestions that the wasta that has allowed Acid to prosper in the last few years had connections to Syria - and hence Acid has become prone to such a raid.

Generally speaking the effect on the gay community has been minimal. Social activity, including Internet activity, has not subsized. The case remains open and significant since Article 534 (punishing acts of homosexuality by up to one year in prison) has rarely been invoked. In the past individuals have been charged, and most charges have been dismissed promptly - no group arrests such as this have taken place in Beirut.

That's all I know at this point. I mean Helem has a relationship with Acid and they've worked together and had disucssions. Helem has handled cases like this, mass arrests based on Article 534, in Tripoli in the last couple of years - although many of those cases still remain open with people in custody, particularly because Helem is quite weak outside of Beirut. Not sure if they will decide to mobilize any international body - I'm pretty sure they'll try to avoid it. (They have not made a major press release and have not included these events in recent updates of their website.) The Egyptian Queen Boat case is still fresh in the institutional memory of Helem - they were founded the same year.

(If you're unfamiliar with the scene in Beirut: Acid is the oldest and largest 'gay nightclub', a title the club has only recentlly accepted. Many new travel guides have started listing Acid as the gay club to visit while in Beirut. Numerous other gay clubs have emerged since 2001 as a result of a large increase of gay Arab tourists. In the past few months, the press has been making reference to Beirut as the "gay capital of the Arab world." )



At 6:28 PM, Blogger pascal. said...

On 11/19/05, Henry wrote:

Pascal do you know why this story isn't being picked up by the media here?

hey henry -

i think most ppl involved agree that it's not in their best interest to have this story picked up by the (int'l) media. increasing visibility about the situation is not generally effective and in some cases can become counter-productive as int'l human rights organizations mobilize in response to the story. (you can consider what happened in iran with the two boys who were executed for, supposedly, being gay. that got picked up by the press - almost certainly as a result of ppl in iran who sent info out and gave out interviews and such. in response iran clarified that the punishment had nothing to do with homosexuality and the two boys were charged with rape... it's very likely that the iranian authorities claimed this to subdue criticisms. furthermore, human rights groups were virtually useless... they wrote letters and had a few protests... but they couldn't do much and things actually got worse... i put a quotattion from a presentation i recently gave about this at the bottom of the email...).

but i guess to answer your question, it's not in the press for similar reasons that i didn't just post the information on the sas list. mobilizing support simultaneously mobilizes "counter-support" - an onslaught of negative comments from regional and local leaders would force the hands of the officials in beirut. no one wants a backlash - and no one wants the ppl in jail to become martyrs... lebanon is generally quite subdued and ignorant when it comes to dealing with issues of homosexuality - they just go with the flow... helem has contacts and uses ministers and lawyers that are on their side to push the case...

finally - logistically why hasn't the story been picked up. helem hasn't put out a press release and although there's a ton of reporters in beirut (ever since the hariri assasination) almost all int'l press about gays in beirut is provided and intiated by helem. (they've been going crazy the last year or two, trying to give more and more interviews)... if helem hasn't said anything to the reporters, then they won't report anything. and like i said in the other email, social activity hasn't decreased... it's not a big story down there either - if you're in the gay community, you know what happened, it generally sucks, but you don't care too much... you just want the clubs to open up again - and unless the reporters tend to frequent Acid or OM they won't really know anything has happened. (oh, that's one update i do have - it wasn't just one raid... cops also raided the second biggest gay club searching for drugs and underage patrons. no arrests. altho the club, OM, remains closed and is rumored to stay closed for the next couple of weeks.)


Quotation about Iran:
"This past summer reports surfaced that two teenagers were executed in Iran. The Human Rights Campaign and Outrage claimed the executions were in response to charges of homosexuality. According to one source, "In the wake of [this story] about the two teens going global, the atmosphere of anti-gay repression and surveillance has considerably heightened in Iran." Nonetheless, this very same source continues to provide information and direct interviews to the international press. An increasingly public narrative on Iranian homosexuality is surfacing. Historically, Janet Afary at Purdue University and author of "Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism" has argued that the current Iranian regime's anti-homosexual repression stems from the consequence of narratives on homosexuality employed during the 1979 Revolution. It is therefore, unsurprising that as public narratives of homosexuality surface – in part the result of advocacy pursued by human rights organizations – same-sex practitioners suffer increasing repression and surveillance."


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