Lebanese Censors Demand Shutdown of Reading, Then Beirut Pride

On Monday, Lebanese government censors stopped a theatrical reading that was part of Beirut Pride events. Pride coordinator Hadi Damien was held in police custody overnight and forced to sign a statement cancelling the rest of Beirut Pride‘s events:

Three days of Pride events — scheduled for May 12-20, 2018 — had already gone off. A reading was scheduled for the evening of May 14: an Arabic reading of Yann Verbugh’s playtext Ogres, which is billed as a “journey to the heart of homophobia in our world today.” The reading was organized in collaboration with the Zouzak Theatre Company, L’Institute Français, and L’Institut Français du Liban.

Then, organizers said, they received a surprise notice that the reading could not go forward. From a statement:

…at 8:10 pm, I received a call from Zoukak Studio informing me that elements of the censorship bureau at the General Security were in the venue, refusing the reading to take place without prior censorship approval.

Although Lebanese theatrical productions usually pass through the country’s censorship bureau — as highlighted by Lucein Bourjeily’s play Bto2ta3 aw ma Bto2ta2? (Is It Permitted or Not?) — readings generally do not. As Pride organizers wrote in their statement:

It is worth mentioning that the censorship pass is the approval of the censorship bureau at the General Security of any show, from which are exempted text readings. Studio Zoukak had asked the censorship bureau if the reading of “Ogres” required any prior censorship, which the bureau negated.

According to organizers, they considered holding the reading elsewhere. Then Beirut Pride coordinator Hadi Damien was told to go to the police station, where he was held in detention overnight:

We discussed the idea of moving the reading venue to a private residence, for the political symbolism of the move, its resistance nerve and for the respect of the effort invested on the evening. The discussion was interrupted when elements from the Vice Police entered the hall, asking me to immediately accompany them for investigation.

There, Damien was confronted with an aggressively badly translated version of the Beirut Pride program. The lineup of events was set to include poetry readings, sexual-health workshops, iftar, and more. Afterwards, the Public Prosecutor apparently offered him two bad options:

The first one is to cancel all the events of Beirut Pride that are scheduled until May 20, sign a pledge that assures the activities will not take place and to release me after I sign a residence document off. The second alternative is to cancel all the events of Beirut Pride that are scheduled until May 20, and not to sign the above-mentioned pledge, so I be referred to the investigation judge who will interrogate me on the basis of articles pertaining to the incitement to immorality and to the breach of public morality for coordinating the activities.

According to the AP, “There was no immediate comment from the police.”

The 2017 pride was held in Beirut without interference, and more than 4,000 people reportedly attended more than a dozen events.