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Activists hail Lebanon court ruling that could protect gay rights

Lebanon is considered more tolerant of LGBT issues than other Arab states [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 July, 2018

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A controversial article in Lebanese penal code, sees sexual relations 'against nature' - viewed as targeting non-heterosexual relations - outlawed and punishable by up to one year in prison.
Lebanese activists have celebrated a court ruling they say paves the way towards decriminalising homosexuality in the small Middle Eastern country.

On Thursday, a Lebanese appeals court upheld the 2017 acquittal of nine people prosecuted over being gay.

A lower court found last January that homosexuality was "a practice of their fundamental rights".

Under a controversial article of the Lebanese penal code, sexual relations "against nature" are outlawed and punishable by up to one year in prison.

On Thursday, the Mount Lebanon appeals court found that, with this article, "legislators had not intended to criminalise homosexuality but rather offence to public morals".

The ruling means that "homosexual relations are not a crime, as long as they are between two adults and do not occur in a public space", said Karim Nammour, a lawyer and member of non-governmental advocacy organisation Legal Agenda.

The verdict was the fifth of its kind, Nammour said on Tuesday, but the first by such a high-ranking court.

"The appeals court has a certain authority... It's higher in the hierarchy," he said.

The ruling is "much more than symbolic. It could have repercussions on the way that lower court judges rule", he added.

Read more: 'We are human and we have rights': LGBT activists speak out across the Middle East

Rights group Helem also celebrated the landmark ruling in a Twitter post on Friday.

"Congratulations for the LGBTQI+ community in Lebanon," wrote the group defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities.

"The court of appeal endorses for the 1st time ruling by judge: Homosexuality is not a crime," it said in English.

While Lebanon is considered more tolerant of LGBT issues than many other Arab states, police still stage raids on gay nightclubs and other venues.

Homosexuality is also often ridiculed on television shows.

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