OPG logo OPG banner Online policy research, outreach, and action on issues such as access, privacy, defamation, and the digital divide.

Web / Email Hosting
About / Contact
Volunteer / Intern

powered by FreeFind
GayLebanon.com Case Causes Stir
by Warren Singh-Bartlett, Beirut Daily Star, September 25, 2000

By the end of Monday, Kamal Batal and Ziad Mugraby should know where they will be spending the next few months - or even years - of their lives.

On trial at the Military Tribunal in Mathaf on charges of defaming the nation, Mugraby and Batal are unlikely defendants in an unlikely case.

Mugraby is the owner of local internet service provider, Destination, while Batal is the director of human-rights organization MIRSAD.

If convicted under Article 157 of the Lebanese Military Penal Code, which defends the army and the flag against defamation, the pair could spend up to three years in prison.

It all started with gaylebanon.com, a US-registered informational website aimed at lesbians and gays in Lebanon and the diaspora. Little more than a domain name, gaylebanon.com had not even got off the ground before the vice squad conducted an April 3 raid on Destination, the Beirut ISP the Hobeish police station associated with the site.

“The company had nothing to do with the website,” said one Destination source who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity. “The Agence France Presse report was wrong. Destination wasn’t involved in the production of the website. We really have no relevance to this issue.”

The link between the two appears to have resulted from a “technicality, part of the process of registering the domain name of a new website.”

This fact eventually became clear to the vice squad. After interrogating Mugraby on two separate occasions to get him to divulge the names of those responsible for the website, knowledge which Mugraby said he does not possess, no charges were brought to bear.

The problem appears to have resulted from the raids. After continued vice squad harassment of Destination staff - which according to a report circulated by the International Lesbian and Gay Association included threats to shut the ISP down - MIRSAD (Multi-Initiative on Rights: Search, Assist and Defend) stepped into the fray.

On April 18, MIRSAD issued an e-mail protest to its members and the press, highlighting “the unlawful attempts by the police to interfere in the freedom of the internet and the freedom of expression of the gay community.” The message also expressed concern this might be the start of a wider censorship campaign.

On April 21, Batal was summoned to the Hobeish station to explain the condemnation. His answer must have failed to please because sometime between April and August, the case came under military jurisdiction.

On Aug. 5, Mugraby and Batal were charged with “tarnishing the reputation of the vice squad by distributing a printed flyer,” apparently a reference to the e-mail appeal originally issued by MIRSAD.

Both civilians, Mugraby and Batal, were further informed their trial would take place in the Military Tribunal under charges of violating Article 157 of the Military Penal Code.

Batal does not understand how the charge of staining the reputation of the vice squad came to warrant the intervention of military authorities. Despite several calls on Sunday, The Daily Star was unable to reach the ISF for comment.

“If you can explain it to me, do,” said Batal. “The tribunal has no jurisdiction over the ISF or over an ISP; it’s clear this is an attack outside the law to pressure on ISP’s, human-rights activists and the (gay) community.”

When contacted on Sunday afternoon, Nasri Lahoud, the chief military prosecutor at the tribunal, said he could not comment on the case.

“My opinion is that the tribunal is going beyond its competence,” said George Assaf, head of Human Rights Institute at the Bar Association.

In a recent press release, Amnesty International, just one of several international organizations that have taken an interest in the case, went even further. “The reaction of the authorities to (the MIRSAD e-mail) is unacceptable … if military courts are to be used in this way to silence free criticism, it will be a sad day for freedom of expression in Lebanon.”

Assaf said the case all boils down to a matter of interpretation. The tribunal may justify its decision to prosecute Mugraby and Batal on the basis that a website which links the issue of homosexuality with Lebanon constitutes an attack on the country’s image abroad.

But such an interpretation is itself contestable. While homosexuality, or more specifically “acts against nature” is punishable in Lebanon, websites set up by lesbians and gays as a means of communication are theoretically not, according to Assaf, illegal, provided they do not contain pornography or other illegal content.

As gaylebanon.com was no more than an address and contained no content beyond the site’s logo, this could be an argument in favor of the defendants, although it is unlikely to do them much good. “If you look at this in an absolute manner, freedom of speech is protected under the Constitution,” explained Assaf. “However, I suspect that even civil society wouldn’t support the rights of homosexuals.”

For Assaf, the trial is part of what he calls a “disturbing” trend on the part of the Military Tribunal to extend its authority over civilian affairs. “We’ve even seen minors referred to the military before the decision is taken to prosecute them in the Juvenile Court.”

For Batal, facing prosecution for his objections to how the whole affair was handled, the case has much more to do with the human-rights movement in Lebanon than a gay website based in the US. “My major concern is the pressure this case has created on human-rights activists here,” he said, sounding remarkably calm in the face of a possible three-year jail sentence.

He believes the case could end Monday, with the tribunal dismissing it as one out of its jurisdiction. But he admits it could drag on for months, as a way of further pressuring activists.

“Prosecuting civilians in a military court, denying the right of freedom of expression, denying the right to a defense,” Batal said, citing the damaging aspects of the charges against him. “According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this is a  clear attack on a defender of those rights; the damage (to activists) has already been done.



A case that started when Lebanon's Internal Security Force attempted to find out who owned www.gaylebanon.com has ended with fines of $219 each for Kamal Batal, director of the human-rights organization Multi-Initiative on Rights: Search, Assist, Defend (MIRSAD), and Ziad Mughraby, owner of the local Internet service provider Destination. They were convicted of violating Article 157 of the Military Penal Code which bans defamation of the army or the flag.

Batal and Mughraby allegedly tarnished the reputation of the vice squad by distributing a printed flyer. They deny distributing any flyer and believe the document in question was a printout of an e-mail MIRSAD sent its members after police visited Destination and demanded the names of the owners of gaylebanon.com, which, it turned out, was not hosted by Destination or any other Lebanon-based Internet provider.

Top of page


Online Access
Online Privacy
Digital Defamation
Digital Divide
Online Community
Diversity of Content
Online Commercialism
Electronic Electorate
Privacy Policy
Site Accessibility
Copyright ©2000-2001
Online Policy Group, Inc.
All rights reserved.