BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Lebanese police has launched a sting operation targeting gay men across the country making dozens of arrest.
The operation begun on Saturday with police arresting 27 men for alleged "gay sex" and "indecency" during a raid on Agha Hammam in the area of Hamra-Concord, Beirut.
Six have been released on Thursday while the 21 others have been transferred to Zahle's prison under the claims that there is no more space in Hbeish.
16 of the detainees asked Helem, Lebanon's LGBTQI advocacy organisation for legal help and can only be released with the payment of a substantial bail, to which the organisation is calling for donations.
On Thursday a further raid occurred in the morning on Sheherazade Hammam in the Burj Hammoud neighbourhood of Beirut, before it opened its doors to the public, with one employee being arrested.
In addition there have been unconfirmed reports of further raid on a private home in the northern city of Tripoli, where gay men were meeting, with 17 people arrested also on Thursday.
Colonel Tony Haddad of Hbeish police station confirmed the arrest of 27 unnamed men, including the owner and employees, have been in police custody for over five days.
Haddad claimed the raid was conducted following the arrest of an individual who said the Hammam as a meeting place for men who are seeking sexual encounters with other men.
Although Hbeish police station has previously been criticized using the "anal-probe" test to "determine" if someone is gay, Haddad denied that in this instant the test was used although he said that investigators received "confessions" as the sexual orientation of 24 of the detainees with three claiming they aren't gay.
Five Lebanese advocacy organizations, Helem, Arab Foundation for Freedom and Equality (AFE), M-Coalition, Marsa Sexual Health Clinic, and the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH), have condemned the arrest, branding it "homophobic practice" and called for the individuals to be released.
They also stressed that during the raid there were no sexual acts taking place at the Agha Hammam.
Hbeish personnel investigated the detainees and their files have now been transferred to the General Prosecutor, Bilal Dinnawi, awaiting charges.
Dinnawi informed the five organizations "that overall the General Prosecution is not interested in charging the detainees with ["having unnatural sex"], article 534. However, in this particular case Dinawi confirmed that he might charge the detainees under public indecency (article 521)."
The general prosecutor stated that no anal tests were done because the men "confessed" but he also mentioned that he could have had these carried out "if he wanted to."
The coalition of five advocacy groups called upon the General Prosecutor and Hbeish police station to respect the dignity of the detainees and expressed concern over the possibility that anal-probe tests were used, which were previously slammed by international rights organizations as a form of torture.
Dr. Hasan Abdessamad, president of LebMASH, told me: "The general prosecutor should not be able to prefer these tests in theory given the ministry of justice statement on the issue and the precious ban by Lebanese Order of Physicians (LOP) of forensic doctors from performing it (even though this didn't stop that one doctor whose name has recently been circulating in the media).
"LebMASH is working with LOP, ensuring that forensic doctors would not violate the code of ethics and enforce any abusive futile tests on detainees. In addition, we are working with LOP to provide sensitivity training to forensic doctors on how to deal specifically with sexual minorities.
"The men who frequent such spaces are usually working class or poor and can not afford going to a hotel or much less have a holiday home, or pay a substantial bail. They are often not out and the police has now put their lives at risk because their families and communities will be informed, and are usually not very tolerant of gays.
"Why are authorities targeting poor gay men, if this was a campaign about 'public decency' why were only these establishments selected?" asked Abdessamad.
He further told me that it may be that because of the current fragile nature of Lebanon's security and the fact that authorities have not acted against violent militias, this could be a policy of "distraction" where they can "be seen to be doing something by targeting vulnerable and even voiceless population which is unpopular with the general public."
Meanwhile, MTV, one of Lebanon's main TV station, has been alleging that the Hammam has been used as a place for "debauchery" and "perversion, and that other Hammams across Lebanon are "guilty" of similar "public indecency".
Joseph Aoun, a Lebanese LGBTI rights activists, told me: "Our state is trying to do imaginary victories facing their failure on other levels. They are ready to target minorities and gay people as they are a catchy subject. The society in general refuses such behaviours. Were waiting the detainees release and then take the proper actions. Lets hope no dramatic turnouts will take place."
Speaking with me about the incident, Georges Azzi, director of AFE condemned MTV's "tabloid sensationalist journalism" and said: "in times where religious fanatism is threatening the security and the freedom of the country and had killed many of our soldiers it is a little bit absurd that police is focusing it's effort on going after the gay community "
"Aren't we supposed at this time to promote freedoms and fight extremism with more personal freedoms and respect of human dignity? Or is the police serving the extremist agenda?" he added.