Lebanese Authorities Block Gay Pride Festival

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Lebanon's LGBT festival, the only event of its kind in the Arab world, was suspended after authorities interrogated its organizer and threatened him with prosecution, he said Wednesday.

The second edition of Beirut Pride had started Saturday with a concert starring "Alsarah and the Nubatones", a band fronted by a Brooklyn-based Sudanese singer.

The week-long event was to include cultural events, talks and readings aimed at raising awareness, minus the extravagant parades held at Pride events elsewhere.

But Lebanon's General Security agency stopped a reading set for Monday evening and summoned festival organizer Hadi Damien for questioning, he said in a statement.

He was advised to "sign a pledge that assures the activities will not take place" in exchange for his release, he said.

The festival's remaining events, including poetry readings, a storytelling night and a talk on sexual health, were canceled, the statement said.

Damien's lawyer Layal Saqr said her client was interrogated over allegedly "encouraging debauchery and offending public decency." She said the authorities are not required to identify the plaintiffs.

"This was a warning...and the aim was to stop the events," which have become widely publicized, Saqr said.

If he didn't' sign the pledge, Damien could have faced misdemeanor charges or a criminal case punishable by up to two years in prison. "I advised him to sign. We want him outside not behind bars," Saqr said.

Lebanon's gay pride week last year — the first in the Arab world — was also disrupted after Islamist groups complained and threatened to attack a planned parade. Some events were canceled, including the parade, but no one was detained.

Damien that said although he was locked up in a crowded cell for over 12 hours, he was not verbally or physically abused. He added that he collaborated with the security agencies to avoid a wider crackdown.

"I didn't want to cause panic or disappoint the LGBT community," Damien said.

Regionally, only Israel and Turkey organize pride week celebrations, include a parade. In Egypt, authorities cracked down heavily on the LGBT+ community last year when concertgoers raised a rainbow flag during a performance.

Georges Azzi, a Lebanese who founded the region's first LGBT advocacy group in 2004, won a prestigious award at the annual gala of the global campaigning OutRight International in New York Monday.

Lebanon is generally more tolerant of its LGBT community than other Arab countries, but an event was also shut down during the first edition of Beirut Pride last year.

Activists in Beirut are at the forefront of efforts to tackle prejudice in the region, but continue to face discrimination both by state institutions and society.

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