Top Human Rights Lawyer Discusses Article 534 [Audio Recording]

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On Monday, August 10, 2009, Nahwa Al Muwatiniya hosted Lawyer Nizar Saghieh for an open discussion about Article 534. You can listen to (or download) the full speech given by Mr. Saghieh here:


We’re also re-posting “Notes on Article 534″ by permission from our friends at the Gay-Straight Alliance. They are not the same things the lawyer says in his speech, but are from a different speech made by Mr. Saghieh made at an event organized by Helem.

Notes on Article 534

On Sunday, May 17, 2009 and on the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia, Mr. Nizar Saghieh spoke about the legal ramifications of Article 534 in Lebanon at a talk organized by Helem. A prominent human rights lawyer, Mr. Saghieh explained the implications of Article 534 and the strategies that can be used to annul it.

The following notes were taken at the talk by individuals and can in no way be taken to reflect with any legal accuracy Mr. Saghieh’s points.

Here are some of Mr. Saghieh’s most interesting points during that talk:

1. The Lebanese government is not interested in taking legal action against homosexuals in Lebanon. This is evident in that Article 534 is very rarely applied.

2. It is helpful to the LGBTs in Lebanon when other countries around the world de-criminalize homosexuality because Lebanon has a history of being easily influenced by countries like France, and the argument that France has progressive gay rights can be used in Lebanese courts because Article 534 originally came during the French colonial times in Lebanon.

3. Every small initiative done by the LGBT community in Lebanon can be used during a court case against 534: a publication, a meeting, a conference, a petition, a presentation in class – even an online group. All of this can be used in court to show that homosexuality is a normal part of Lebanese societies. So it’s very important and we should keep doing it.

4. There are two ways to abolish Article 534. The first is through lobbying with the parliament to remove it. The second way is to take away some of its legislative power by providing a precedent where a verdict after a trial that finds a homosexual person innocent of “sex against nature.” Here’s what that needs. If someone is taken to court under that claim that he/she is homosexual and practicing sex against nature, the lawyer would defend this person using many human rights and gay rights arguments. If the lawyer wins the case and the judge rules that this person is innocent of any crime, then Article 534 is undermined. Unfortunately, that does not mean it is canceled because a judge can still judge differently in another case. But it would mean that we would have a legal precedent that shows that this law was not used to prosecute homosexuals.

5. The government turns a blind eye to Article 534 because it doesn’t want Western European countries to be angry with Lebanon for criminalizing homosexuals. It’s the same as capital punishment, which is legal but rarely used in Lebanon.

6. Most of the court cases in Lebanon that have used Article 534 have been a combination of other crimes with the “crime” of unnatural sex: theft, murder, or sex with a minor for example. This has made it really difficult for lawyers who support gay rights to use a court case to annul Article 534.

7. In 2002, during a revision of the Lebanese Penal Code, Article 534 was expanded rather than limited, so in theory it could be applied to a range of sexual acts and identities, not just to sodomy, although it is originally a law against sodomy. It is applicable to lesbians too.

8. LGBTs and their allies should not lose momentum in their fight against Article 534 in Lebanon. Events should be held every month, not just once a year. More and more organizations and groups concerned with LGBT rights should be formed and be active in difference communities. The more activities there are, the easier it will be to defend homosexuals in court and to abolish Article 534. Even if the article is not abolished, more event and activities around homosexuality in Lebanon will foster greater public acceptance and will reduce the use of the article in the first place.

9. We fear Article 534 a lot more than it deserves to be feared. We should not be afraid. We should come out in force in support of LGBTs in Lebanon. If we had any real enemies, they would have shown themselves or spoken out by now. But of course, we have enemies, and we should get them to speak out. We should get the homophobic arguments flowing so that we can engage with them to prove our point.

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