Lebanese Police Use WhatsApp to Persecute LGBT Citizens

By Anthony Hawkins

In countries that penalize homosexuality, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people often hide their identities in public to avoid persecution and harassment. Many turn to the internet and other new technologies to find freedom of expression.

But in Lebanon, the police are clamping down on this safe space. They’re using WhatsApp, a mobile app allowing users to exchange text and media messages, to target gay men. News of this cyber-policing tactic broke when Helem, a Lebanese LGBT rights group, reported that officers arrested men suspected of being gay after going through their WhatsApp contacts.

In an urgent Facebook post in late August, the group announced that authorities “are summoning contacts from detainees based on their WhatsApp conversations to go down to the police station for questioning,” and instructed its members to immediately contact the organization if summoned.

The monitoring is part of an ongoing crackdown on LGBT individuals in Lebanon. In early August, morality police raided a bathhouse in Beirut and arrested 27 men suspected of engaging in gay sex. And in January, five men accused of being gay were subjected to draconian anal exams, even though such tests were discredited by the Lebanese Order of Physicians in 2012.

Although Lebanon sponsored the 2011 UN resolution to end violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the country continues to persecute its LGBT community. One of 76 countries that criminalize homosexuality, Lebanon prohibits sexual relations that contradict the “laws of nature,” which are punishable by up to a year in prison.

This year, a court dismissed a case against a transgender woman in Jdeideh, Beirut accused of violating Article 534 of Lebanon’s penal code. The dismissal signified what many hoped was a willingness to move toward eliminating the pervasive culture of impunity for violence against the LGBT community. But with this recent onslaught of arrests, that hope is thinning.

If Lebanon wants to be on the right side of history when it comes to LGBT rights, it should start with abolishing police tactics that infringe on its gay citizens’ right to privacy.

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Published on October 16, 2014

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