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Lebanon's gay pride organiser detained, week's events cancelled

In Lebanon the LGBT community usually fares marginally better than in other Arab states [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 May, 2018

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The Arab country's only Pride week was shut down just days after it began following organiser Hadi Damien's detention at the hands of authorities.

Lebanon's gay pride week was cancelled on Tuesday after its organiser was briefly detained, he and his lawyer said.

The Middle Eastern state became the first Arab country in the region to celebrate gay pride last year. Homosexuality is still illegal across the region and punishable under a number of vaguely worded laws that cite "public decency".

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is stigmatised and often the target of humiliating arrests in most of the region's countries. 

However, in Lebanon the community fares marginally better than in other Arab states. The recent legislative elections earlier this month included a popular candidate who campaigned against laws that criminalise homosexuality. 

Hadi Damien told AP that he was taken into custody overnight for organising Beirut Pride week, which began on Saturday. 

Lebanese authorities tried to halt a theatre reading on Monday night, saying it was not approved by the country's censorship authorities. Damien was then detained and taken in for questioning over Beirut Pride's events. 

Authorities asked Damien to sign a pledge to call off the rest of the festival's events. "This was a warning ... and the aim was to stop the events," his lawyer, Layal Saqr, said.

She added Damien was interrogated over allegedly "encouraging debauchery and offending public decency". She said the authorities are not required to identify the plaintiffs.

If he didn't sign the pledge, Damien could have faced misdemeanor charges or a criminal case punishable by up to two years in prison. "I advised him to sign. We want him outside not behind bars," she added.

Beirut Pride opened with an event for parents who openly support their children's sexual orientation. Organisers also launched a campaign for businesses to address discrimination in the workplace against LGBT professionals.The week-long festival was packed with initiatives and performances that defied gender stereotypes, including a street party, a drag show, legal workshops, concerts and poetry readings.

Lebanon's gay pride week last year was also disrupted after Islamist groups complained and threatened to attack a planned parade. Some events were cancelled, including the parade, but no one was detained. This year, there was no parade planned.

Damien that said although he was locked up in a crowded cell for more than 12 hours, he was not verbally or physically abused. He added that he cooperated with the security agencies to avoid a wider crackdown.

"I didn't want to cause panic or disappoint in the LGBT community," Damien said.

Only Israel and Turkey, two non-Arab countries in the region, organise pride week celebrations and parades. 

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