A Lebanese LGBT rights group has warned the country’s gay community that police are using the WhatsApp messenger app to target gay men.
The organisation, Helem, posted an urgent announcement on its Facebook page on Tuesday, revealing that it had “learned that the Hobeich police station has been arresting individuals in Beirut and going through their WhatsApp contacts.”
It explained: “They are summoning contacts from detainees based on their WhatsApp conversations to go down to the police station for questioning.”
Helem advised anyone who received the messages to not go and to instead contact a representative from the organisation, who would instruct them on what to do.
The move appears to be part of a recent crackdown on gay men in Lebanon. Earlier this month, morality police arrested 27 men in a raid on a bath house in Beirut on suspicion that they were engaging in gay sex.
Helem revealed on Wednesday that seven of the men remained in detention, but they are expected to be released on bail soon. The prisoners are believed to be foreigners who were employees at the bath house.
The Lebanese Penal Code prohibits having sexual relations that contradict “the laws of nature”, which is punishable by up to a year in prison. Prosecutors, however, are reportedly unlikely to charge them with this but with public indecency instead.
The Lebanese authorities have been criticised in the past for forcing men accused of homosexuality to have anal exams. These tests were discredited by the Lebanese Order of Physicians in 2012, but there were reports that they were forced on five men as recently as January.