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Lebanese Police Threaten to Close Internet Service Provider
IGLHRC Defends Freedom of Expression on the Worldwide Web

San Francisco - The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) protested the actions of Lebanese prosecutors and police, who harassed and threatened an internet service provider for allegedly hosting a gay-related site.

"Free expression is at risk in Lebanon," said Kamal Fizazi, IGLHRC's Regional Program Coordinator for Southwest Asia.  "Lebanese human rights activists warn that this may be the beginning of a drive to stifle politically unpopular speech.  A campaign may be in the works to subject the independent Lebanese media to Syrian control."

On April 3, 2000, members of the Beirut vice squad entered the offices of Destination, a major Lebanese internet service provider.  They had no search warrant - contrary to Lebanese law - but had written instructions from the Beirut prosecutor, Joseph Maamari, to identify and arrest the owners of an informative website about the Lebanese gay community.

Staff of Destination were threatened and prevented from making outgoing telephone calls during the police raid. Police confiscated the identity card of the general manager of Destination.  The manager has since been summoned to a nearby police precinct twice.  During interrogations, he has been told that, unless he reveals the names and whereabouts of the owners of gaylebanon.com, Destination will be closed down.

Although Lebanese law penalizes 'unnatural' sexual acts, homosexual identity is not criminalized.  However, according to the Lebanese human rights organization MIRSAD, which joined IGLHRC in condemning the police action, the Lebanese justice system is "generally unsympathetic" to gays.

"Freedom of expression is a basic right," said IGLHRC's Fizazi.  "There is no legal basis for the Lebanese authorities' action.  In threatening to close down thousands of people's internet access in a witchhunt aimed at a single gay site, the Lebanese police are showing their contempt for all speech, not just dissenting speech."

MIRSAD expressed concern that this action "may be the start of a wider censorship campaign camouflaged behind the attack against this relatively weak group."  According to the human rights organization, rumors in Beirut point to the hand of Syria behind the censorship.  Syria, which has strong military and political influence in Lebanon, may plan to close down Lebanese internet service providers, and reroute all internet traffic through Damascus.

IGLHRC has called for letters to the Lebanese government protesting the police action.

"The Lebanese constitution protects freedom of expression, as do numerous international treaties and standards," Fizazi stated. "The integrity of independent Lebanon demands that the country's government defend those rights."