Lebanon Court Dismisses Case Against Transgender Woman

Human Rights First applauds the recent decision by Lebanese judge Naji al-Dahdah to dismiss a case against a transgender woman in Jdeideh, Beirut accused of violating Article 534 of Lebanon’s penal code. Under the article, which criminalizes “unnatural sexual intercourse,” the woman would have faced up to one year in jail.

While Article 534 had previously been criticized in the legal system in a 2009 court ruling—which decreed that homosexual relationships were not against nature because “Man is part of nature…so it cannot be said that any one of his practices or any one of his behaviors goes against nature”— Judge Dahdah’s ruling is rumored to be the first to apply the law to a transgender individual.

Although Article 534 is rarely used by Lebanese prosecutors, it still poses a threat to the gay community. Police officers widely use the law to blackmail, threaten, and most notoriously, justify obscene “homosexual examinations” that humiliate so-called suspects. During these examinations, officers have subjected men to invasive tests to determine if there is evidence of homosexual sexual activity. While reports indicate officers give suspects a choice to comply, denial often determines guilt.

Judge Dahdah’s ruling invalidates the law, and is an important step towards repealing Article 534 and eliminating the pervasive culture of impunity for violence against the LGBT community. People who target LGBT people are rarely prosecuted for their crimes, as victims rarely report bias-motivated crimes, and in rare cases where they do, the investigations are short and seldom lead to arrests.

The court’s ruling comes amidst a recent global outburst of backlash against LGBT people in countries including Uganda, Nigeria, and Russia, which have recently passed discriminatory legislation. Although Lebanon is regarded as one of the most liberal of Middle Eastern nations, any step towards the repeal of such a law is nonetheless reason for hope.

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Published on March 12, 2014

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