Lebanon: Call for action against 'gay test' doctor

A gay rights demonstration in Beirut, 2010

There are calls for disciplinary action against a doctor in Lebanon who carried out bogus "homosexuality tests" on five men who had been arrested on suspicion of having "unnatural" intercourse.

The doctor, identified only by the initials "A.M.", used a long-discredited procedure devised in the 1850s by one of the earliest forensic scientists, Auguste Ambroise Tardieu

Tardieu mistakenly claimed that "chronic sodomites" have certain permanent characteristics which can be detected by a physical examination. The "test" involves inserting an egg-shaped metal object into the anal canal.

Beirut lawyer Nizar Sagieh has called on the Lebanese Order of Physicians to bring a professional misconduct case against Dr A.M. "There are many sanctions available, so it is up to the people who are hearing this case to decide on what is adequate, " he told the Daily Star. The Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health is also calling for disciplinary action against the doctor.

The "test of shame" (as it is known in Lebanon) was banned by the Order of Physicians in 2012, and it threatened disciplinary measures against any doctor who failed to comply. In a statement at the time, it said:

"Such techniques do not give the desired result and constitute a gross violation of the rights of persons who are subject to it without their consent.

"The practice is humiliating and is torture in violation of the [United Nations] Convention Against Torture. Therefore, we ask you to avoid carrying out any similar action under penalty of disciplinary prosecution."

The 2012 ban followed the arrest of 35 men at a cinema in Beirut which was raided by police after a tip-off that it was showing gay porn films. The men involved were subjected to the "test of shame" – and then made to pay $85 each for the cost of doing it.

As a result of the uproar over that case, it was generally assumed that the tests had been abandoned. But it has now emerged that Dr A.M. was hired in January by the Moral Protection Bureau of the Lebanese police to carry out tests on five more men – three of them Syrians – who were arrested in a raid on an apartment. They were detained for three days and then released after the tests had been carried out.

An article on the website of the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health explains in detail why the tests and unethical and ineffective – and possibly harmful.

In Lebanon, prosecutions for homosexuality are brought under article 534 of the penal code, which states that all "unnatural intercourse" is to be punished by up to one year in prison – though there are legal disputes about the meanings of "unnatural" and "intercourse".

Lawyer Nizar Saghieh has argued that the Arabic word for "intercourse" used in the law (mujaama'a) refers specifically to acts of copulation and is therefore intended to deal only with anal intercourse, or sodomy. However, its application has been extended by judges to include non-copulative acts such as fellatio, masturbation and even sex between lesbians. 

The word "unnatural", as a reference to gay sex, is also contentious. In 2009, a judge in Batroun (northern Lebanon) ruled that the concept of the "unnatural" is "related to society's mindset" and the law does not provide a definition of "nature" or a means to determine whether an act is in conformity with nature or against it. 

Thus, in the judge's view, it could be said that any practice or behaviour is against nature. "If a heat wave struck in winter, or if a tree bore fruit after its usual time, it is all in accordance with the system and laws of nature, for it is nature itself …" the judge said.

This raised hopes among activists that the judge's ruling would make the law inoperable, but it clearly hasn't done so.
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Thursday, 17 July 2014