bilalBeirut: Special security forces have raided a Turkish bath in Beirut and arrested 27 men, prompting widespread condemnation and protests by rights organizations who describe it as homophobic action.

Lebanon’s national police and the Lebanese Internal Security Force raided “Agha Hammam” in the Hamra-Concord section of  Beirut on Aug. 9 and arrested 27 men.

The men were questioned about their sexual orientation and held without being told the charges against them, a group of human rights and LGBT rights organizations said, according to

The organizations have protested the action and demanded the men’s immediate release because at the time of the raid and arrests “no public sexual act was taking place at Agha Hammam. Moreover, investigation at the police station revolved mainly around the detainees’ alleged homosexuality,” protesters stated.

The report published a press release about the incident  jointly put together by  the Lebanese LGBT organization Helem, the Arab Foundation for Freedom and Equality, the regional HIV/AIDS advocacy network M-Coalition, the Marsa Sexual Health Clinic, and the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health

The press release noted that according to Col. Tony Haddad from the Hbeish police station, 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.

“We were able to confirm the arrest of 27 men who were present at the venue. Among the arrested men were the owner of the Hammam, the employees and several clients” the press release said.

“We denounce this incident as a case of homophobic practice that aims to police the sexual rights and liberties of the individuals,” it said.

Col. Haddad reportedly said that Hbeish police personnel investigated the detainees and their files have been transferred to the General Prosecutor awaiting charges.

He denied that any of the detainees were subjected to physical or verbal violence or abuse nor the controversial anal probe test conducted to confirm sexual orientation.

The General Prosecution when contacted said he was not interested in charging the detainees with article 534 [which provides for up to one year in prison for “any sexual intercourse against nature”] the press release said but confirmed that he might charge the detainees under public indecency article 521.

Ghenwa Samhat, the executive director of Helem, was quoted by  Leboanon’s Al-Akhbar English language news portal as saying that this is the biggest anti-gay raid in Lebanon since the April 2013 raid and shutdown of a gay-friendly nightclub in a Beirut suburb.

Although Lebanon has a reputation of being one of the more gay-friendly countries in the region, Article 534 is regularly used to criminalize same-sex relations, it added.

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