Helem Works to Support Detainees After Bathhouse Raid

The Lebanese Internal Security Force arrested 27 men for alleged public indecency following the raid of the Agha Hammam bathhouse on August 9th. Police were directed to the bathhouse after an incarcerated individual claimed it was a gathering place for men seeking sexual encounters with other men.

Helem, the Arab World’s first LGBT advocacy group, led the effort to uphold the detainees’ basic human rights, which included an emergency fundraising campaign to pay for all legal fees.

Using their Facebook page as a venue for immediate updates, Helem wrote that the Police Colonel they inquired denied the presence of abuse or brutality but claimed that the sexual orientation of some detainees had been “confirmed.” Helem then followed up with the General Prosecutor, who informed the group that the detainees would be charged under Article 521 of the Lebanese Penal Code for public indecency, rather than the controversial Article 534 for “unnatural sexual intercourse,” as no evidence to support the latter could be found. Helem denounced the case as homophobic and called for the immediate release of all detainees.

After 16 detainees requested assistance hiring lawyers, Helem launched a fundraising campaign to cover their legal fees. During a visit to the jail, Helem discovered two trans women had been held for 20 days without charge in an unrelated case. The group promised to follow up with their cases, and also solicited unisex clothing donations to make the women more comfortable.

The next day, Helem announced the success of their fundraising efforts, writing: “We are very happy to see the community and its allies unite in the fight against homophobia and transphobia and we are sure that this unity will let us win the fight.”

Two men from the raid and both trans women were released on August 18th. Helem reasserted their commitment to fight for the release of all detainees, which, they wrote, would happen “very soon.”

Gay Star News reported that a second bathhouse was raided by police on August 14th in Burj Hammoud, a suburb of Beirut. According to rumors, all but one detained in the second raid have been released.

Rainbow Street commends the work of Helem to uphold the basic human rights of Lebanese LGBT people and inform their allies around the world. Helem’s vital efforts, including their work to free the remaining detainees, can be followed on their Facebook page.