Home > Uncategorized > An “A to Y” Explanation of the Hammam Al Agha Raid: Awaiting the Trial

An “A to Y” Explanation of the Hammam Al Agha Raid: Awaiting the Trial


An “A to Y” Explanation of the Hammam Al Agha Raid: Awaiting the Trial  

by Rabih El Koussa

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Within the effervescent city of Beirut, and among the ever-vibrant touristic stops of the streets of Hamra, lies a bathhouse so care-free that only the most stressed of men would visit. Having a fallacious reputation of only being frequented by homosexual men, Hammam Al Agha, on Saturday the 9th of August, was not as calm as always. After receiving a tip-off from an arrested man, explains colonel Tony Haddad of Hbeich Police Station, the Internal Security Forces (ISF) proceeded onto raiding the bathhouse and arresting 27 men, including the owner of the Hammam, the employees, and the clients, on the allege that Hammam Al Agha is a venue commonly visited by men who seek sexual encounters with other men, hence, a possible offense of Article 534 of the Criminal Penal Code which prohibits “unnatural sexual intercourse.”

It is necessary to recall previous landmark ruling of Judge Naji Al-Dahdah who considered that Article 534 is irrelevant as gender is based on self-perception, and to consider the preceding decision of Judge Mounir Suleiman in December 2009, who found that article 534 is no longer applicable in circumstances of homosexual sexual intercourse, as homosexuality might be defying the prevalent norms of society, yet is absolutely not against the laws of nature. Since when has a set of legal advisers been able to dictate what nature deems natural or unnatural?

To a great surprise, the unfortunate incident had only come to the attention of civil society two days after the arrest, on the night of Monday the 11th of August. And to a greater surprise, the improper raid and detention, (a clear breach of humanitarian logic and moral) was only considered a relevant issue by NGOs concerned with the physiological and psychological health of LGBT people.

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 The first question to be asked: Why is the legal system corrupt? Why are detainees considered guilty until proven innocent? This, from this point on, is no longer a fight the LGBT community must hold. It has become the moral obligation of anyone who believes in a system of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ instead of ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ Subsequently, a press release which was written as a collaborative work of Helem, the Arab Foundation For Freedoms And Equality, M-Coalition, Marsa – Sexual Health Center, and LebMASH confirmed the detainment of 27 men and started an investigation on the reasons of the raid and the status of the detained.

When asked, Col. Haddad denied that any of the detainees were subjected to any physical or verbal violence or abuse – nor to the anal probe test – throughout the investigation. Col. Haddad also informed us that “the investigators were able to obtain confirmations from some of the detainees concerning their sexual orientation,” explains the press report, on the basis of what Col. Haddad has claimed, which cannot be confirmed beyond his word.

The files of the detainees have been transferred to General Prosecutor Bilal Dinnawi who will be presiding over the case and following up on the charges. Mr. Dinnawi has expressed an unlikeliness of charging the detainees with an offense of Article 534, and will be accusing the still-in-custody men of an offense of Article 521, an infringement of public decency. After getting acquainted with legal perspective regarding the trial, it is safe to say that Article 521 is not applicable in such a situation and would be considered an invalid interpretation of the law. “Unless serious evidence is available, the charges must be dropped immediately,” added another lawyer.

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A law instructor at the Lebanese University (LU) clarified that any activity occurring within the bathhouse with the consent of the owner technically renders the action “private” which eliminates any possibility of “public” indecency. Following up on the lack of media attention to the subject, it becomes a responsibility to highlight MTV’s homophobically inaccurate article headline “Collective Homosexual Acts in a Beirut Hammam”, and LBCI’s news remark “The protection of public decency in Lebanon has been revolving around raiding cinema halls, night clubs, and homes, and now, Turkish bathhouses. The protection of public decency has become a means of exploiting personal sexual freedom by a law which by itself contradicts the laws of nature.”

The defendants have been contacted by several NGOs and have expressed great discomfort and disorientation regarding their present status and the process of the investigation and the trial. At the time this article was written, the NGOs collaborating on the lobbying for the release of the detained had contacted Ghida Franjieh from the Legal Agenda and had inferred that the 27 detainees will be charged with both, an offense of Article 534 as well as several offenses of Article 521.

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Additionally, and with a sudden twist of preliminary charges, the owner of the Hammam will be accused of soliciting sex work and prostitution. Concerning the trialled men, six had been able to obtain a release form and were let go, sixteen had requested continual support and follow up from the civil society regarding bail aid and legal representation, and two trans-women have been added to the list of detainees after being held in custody for 20 days without any advancement with their cases.

Prosecution has set a bail of 5,000 USD and a trial date due Monday, August the 18th. The bail funds are yet lacking and NGOs are requesting financial aid through Marsa‘s “donate now” section  or through deposits at Bardo under the name of Joseph Aoun. The critique boiling up from within NGO employees and activists has been truly degrading to Proud Lebanon and its involvement in the case. It has been said that interference and cooperation have been minimal.

“Financially, we are trying to get funds for that via our connections,” insisted Bertho Makso, Founder/Director of Proud Lebanon. Proud Lebanon is soon expected to publish a press release revolving around a pertinent action plan.

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As a final request, we demand that security forces, who have raided yet another bathhouse, Hammam Shehrazade, in the morning of Thursday August the 14th, deal with the problems which are more critical, more mandatory and contribute to the betterment of society. Has fighting drug abuse among youths become too mainstream all of a sudden?

Lastly, as expressed by activist John Abou Elias, “it is important for LGBTQI individuals to be acquainted with their rights, before, during, and after trials in case of detainment; Therefore, there must be more legal outreach and awareness campaigns in the very near future.”  We await Monday’s trial. Impatiently.

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