On the 29th of September, Lebanese security forces from the General Security Directorate shut down a regional gender rights conference in Beirut, Lebanon. The conference, known as NEDWA, is organized annually by the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE) and brings together over 100 activists from the Arabic-speaking Middle East and North Africa region. General Security officers responded to a complaint filed by the Hay’at Al-Oulamaa el Mouslimin (Association of Muslim Scholars). The group had issued a statement accusing the conference of promoting perversion and drug use, and called for the conference to be cancelled on grounds of “incitement to immorality.”
Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International, who was at the conference said,
“In spite of ten years of positive court decisions, there have been several attacks on the basic rights of the LGBTQ community’s freedom of association over the past year. The crackdown on LGBTQ organizations is serious and the international community has to speak out.”
General Security forces initially tried to pressure Georges Azzi, Executive Director of AFE, to sign a document that he would cancel all activities related to the event. When he refused, General Security forces informed the hotel management that they were shutting down the conference. The security forces also took down the names, details and passport copies of all attendees.
Attempts by the General Security forces to shut down the conference violate multiple human rights, including but not limited to, rights to assembly and freedom of expression.
Georges Azzi, Executive Director of AFE, commented on the incident saying,
“These kinds of attacks are expected, there is no activism without risks, but we need to be more prepared, stay united and help each other to stand up and continue the fight.”
Lebanon is known to be the most liberal place to be LGBTQ in the region, however security forces have escalated their attack on LGBTQ rights in the country. The General Security Directorate also shut down events that honored the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in 2017 and events for Beirut Pride earlier this year in June.
AFE managed to find a new hotel to hold the rest of the conference, though attendees were shaken by the incident. Many attendees came from even more repressive environments for LGBTQ people and feared arrest or persecution upon their return home.