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
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 wasnt 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
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
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
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
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; its clear this is an attack
outside the law to pressure on
ISPs, 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
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 countrys image
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 sites 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 wouldnt
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. Weve 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.
FINES IN LEBANESE WEB SITE CASE
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
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