Bath house raid by police which netted 27 gay men based on no evidence, rights groups say

by Martin Jay

13 August 2014 | 17:29

  • by Martin Jay
  • Last update: 13 August 2014 | 17:29

Lebanese police have come under fire from a posse of NGOs after officers arrested 27 men in a Beirut 'hammam', allegedly for acts of homosexuality.

In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, the groups said 27 men were being held by police after being arrested at a Beirut bath house on August 9 and questioned about their sexual orientation.

The groups, including Lebanese gay rights NGO Helem, said those arrested included the bathhouse owner, his employees, and several clients.

"The raid followed the arrest of an individual who pointed to the Agha Hammam as a gathering place for men who are seeking sexual encounters with other men," the statement said.

The general prosecutor told the groups that the men could face charges of "public indecency," although he was "not interested" in charging them with violating Lebanon's controversial Article 534, which prohibits sexual relations that "contradict the laws of nature", according to AFP.

Gay and human rights groups have campaigned for the abolition of the article, which they say is used to discriminate against homosexuals.

Police told the groups that "investigators were able to obtain confirmations from some of the detainees concerning their sexual orientation," though they insisted no force was used.

This particular issue is a poignant one in Lebanon where doctors have been reported to have used rather barbaric methods in establishing the sexual orientation of a man.

The case against the bath house men appears to be more based on their homosexuality rather than any acts of sex committed in the baths, NGOs believe.

The statement from the groups said no public sex act was taking place at the time of the police raid on the bathhouse and "the investigation at the police station revolved mainly around the detainees' alleged homosexuality."

"We denounce this incident as a case of homophobic practice that aims to police the sexual rights and liberties of the individuals involved," the groups said.

They called on the general prosecutor and the police holding the men to respect their dignity and warned against the use of a controversial "anal test" often used by police in Lebanon to determine homosexuality in men.

The tests have been denounced by human rights groups as abusive and described as scientifically groundless by medical professionals.

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