Lebanon: anti-LGBT bills threaten press freedom
Against the background of growing repression of the LGBT community in Lebanon, two draft laws targeting the media threaten to criminalise the “promotion of sexual deviance”. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) appeals to the Lebanese government and parliament to throw out these proposals and avoid using sexual mores as a pretext for cracking down on the media.
On 16 August, Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada of the Amal movement, a Shi’ite party allied with Hezbollah, submitted a draft law to the cabinet proposing that “any act that explicitly or implicitly promotes abnormal sexual acts” would be punished by a fine or a prison sentence of up to three years.
If the cabinet approves the proposal, it will be submitted to a vote in parliament. On the same day, parliament was presented with a bill drafted by one of its members, former internal security forces chief Ashraf Rifi, which provides for an even harsher penalty – up to five years’ imprisonment – for those guilty of “promoting, facilitating, protecting or inciting” the commission of homosexual acts.
The “proposals could be used against journalists who treat subject touching upon members of LGBT communities”, according to the lawyer and researcher Nizar Saghieh, co-founder of Legal Agenda, a non-profit research and advocacy organization. He added: “The government does not have the right to restrict public debate. This would constitute a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." Information Minister Ziad Makari, who had welcomed that Lebanon rose 11 ranks in RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index, did not respond to the organization’s request for comment.
“Against a backdrop of a growing crackdown on LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender), a number of influential Lebanese leaders are misusing the issue of sexual mores to justify a new attack on press freedom. RSF reminds the Lebanese government of its international commitments and its constitutional duty to protect the right of journalists to keep the public informed on all matters, including those relating to LGBT people.”
Cyberstalking, threats and intimidation
Journalists who report on sexuality and gender issues in Lebanon are already the target of cyberstalking and threats, which have intensified since Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the pro-Iranian group Hezbollah in Lebanon, announced on 22 July that Lebanon must “combat homosexuality” and urged its supporters to use the term “sexual deviants” to refer to gay people.
“I have received messages from Hezbollah asking me not to talk about the subject,” Hussein Chaabane told RSF. The freelance journalist, who covers a wide range of topics in Lebanese society, had criticised the party’s hate speech on his X (formerly Twitter) account at the end of July. “I received insults on social networks in response to my reports on LGBT rights, but anonymous posts have also threatened me by publicly revealing my address.”
Joe Kawly, a news anchor at the Washington-based Arabic-language TV channel Alhurra, was the first gay Arab journalist to come out publicly. He has received online threats of physical violence after the Hezbollah official’s speech. He described the draft laws which were subsequently drawn up as “surreal” and dangerous for journalists. He added: “A free press is the cornerstone of democracy. It is inconceivable that a sexual act can be criminalised, and ever more so that public debate on the subject can be criminalised. These proposals restrict the public’s right to access information on a subject that concerns human rights. They will have a deterrent effect on journalists wishing to discuss the subject.”
Press freedom in decline
Several Hezbollah leaders have issued statements aimed against the media in the past year, with immediate and disastrous consequences. In January, the Shi’ite Jaafarite Mufti Ahmad Kabalan, who is close to the party, criticised a satirical program broadcast by the LBCI television station, saying “the sectarian media are more dangerous for Lebanon than a nuclear bomb”. Two days later, a grenade exploded in the station’s parking lot. Message received and understood.
In August, the Hezbollah leader blamed a television station for an armed clash in which two people were killed in the town of Kahalé east of Beirut, claiming that the “hypocritical” news organization had incited the violence. The confrontation took place after a truck belonging to Hezbollah overturned at the roadside. After he spoke, journalists from the TV station MTV were the targets of violent cyberbullying by Hezbollah supporters.