The Lebanese Internal Security Forces have been accused of torturing gay people, including forcing them to undergo humiliating anal tests to “prove” that they have had anal sex.
The abuses are documented in a report by Human Rights Watch titled It’s Part of the Job: Ill-treatment and Torture of Vulnerable Groups in Lebanese Police Stations.
The report is based on over 50 interviews with people arrested for suspected drug use, sex work, or homosexuality over the past five years who reported that members of the Internal Security Forces subjected them to abuse, torture, and ill-treatment.
One victim, identified as “Nadim,” told Human Rights Watch that he spent two days in Hobeish police station in October 2010 after police arrested him when they could not find his brother, whom they suspected of drug dealing.
When they found no evidence that Nadim had engaged in drug dealing himself, he says, they changed the charge to homosexuality. He was repeatedly beaten, threatened, and subjected to an anal examination.
“The intimidation and the beatings never stopped… [An officer] asked me why I had messages and names of gay men on my phone, I asked him whether it was illegal to speak to gay men. He hit me again so hard my eye split and I began bleeding. I begged him to stop hitting my face but this egged him on further and he hit me even harder. He forced me to sign a confession that I have sex with men, all the while hurling punches and abuse at me. He then made me take off all my clothes and looked at me, told me I’m a faggot, insulted me, threatened me.
“The next day, two more men came in and interrogated me again. By this time the drug issue was dropped, the case was now about homosexuality…When I told the interrogating officer that I was forced to confess to having sex under duress, he got a thick electricity cable and whipped my palms. He then said that he would get a forensic doctor to check me …He kept intimidating me, trying to get me to confess again…The exam turned out negative, and so they had no choice but to release me without charge,” Nadim told Human Rights Watch.
Forced anal examinations, known as ‘tests of shame’ in Lebanon, have been discredited by medical experts as being medically and scientifically useless and have been equated to torture by human rights groups.
While access to redress for police abuse is generally difficult, the report found that it is particularly challenging for sex workers, drug users, and LGBT people. Of the 52 people interviewed who alleged ill-treatment, only six filed complaints, and judges ordered inquiries in only two of these cases.
The threat of exposure of their conduct or sexual orientation, which can lead to negative social consequences in Lebanon, is a barrier to reporting for members of these groups. The ways laws that criminalise sex work, homosexuality, and personal drug use are enforced exacerbate the problem and present a major obstacle to reporting police abuse.
Human Rights Watch said that Lebanese authorities must establish an independent complaints mechanism to investigate torture allegations, and donor countries should ensure that aid to the Internal Security Forces supports the establishment of real accountability mechanisms.
“The abuse of prisoners, especially the most vulnerable people in society, isn’t going to stop until Lebanon ends the culture of impunity in its police force,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The Lebanese Penal Code prohibits having sexual relations that contradict “the laws of nature”, which is punishable by up to a year in prison.