Lebanon: Authorities must ensure Mashrou' Leila concert goes ahead

The Lebanese authorities, and in particular the Ministry of Interior, must protect the worldwide famous Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila from a mounting hate campaign and ensure the band, known for songs tackling social issues in Arab societies such as homophobia, patriarchy and corruption, are able to perform in safety and security, Amnesty International said today.

The authorities, mainly the Ministry of Interior, have a responsibility to take the necessary measures to ensure the band is protected from this spiteful campaign, and to ensure that the concert not be cancelled for security considerations
Lynn Maalouf

On 22 July, church leaders from the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Byblos issued a statement criticizing the band, saying its songs were “offensive to religious and humanitarian values and Christian beliefs”, and called for organizers of the Byblos International Festival in which Mashrou’ Leila are due to perform on 9 August, to cancel the event. This then triggered a social media storm hostile to the band, including calls for the cancellation of the concert even “by force”.

“The authorities, mainly the Ministry of Interior, have a responsibility to take the necessary measures to ensure the band is protected from this spiteful campaign, and to ensure that the concert not be cancelled for security considerations”, said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Research.  

“It is unconscionable that there continue to be such calls emanating from institutions that are meant to serve as role models to their constituencies, and can and should be upholding the right to freedom of expression and protection of vulnerable groups, instead of enabling hate speech, including homophobia.”

Amnesty International calls on the authorities, particularly the Ministry of Interior, to protect both Mashrou’ Leila and fans from any intimidation, harassment and threats, to thoroughly and effectively investigate the reports of attacks on them, and to hold accountable those found to be inciting hatred and violence against the band.

The Lebanese authorities should stand by the band and demonstrate its commitment towards the right to freedom of expression and prevent advocacy of hatred and discrimination.
Lynn Maalouf

On 22 July 2019, a lawyer filed a complaint with the Public Prosecution in Mount Lebanon calling on the state to prosecute the band for insulting a religion, inciting sectarianism and for “spreading and promoting homosexuality”, which is illegal under the penal code.

Formed in 2008, Mashrou’ Leila is known for its criticism of various social, religious and political issues in Lebanon, as well as its support for the right to freedom of expression and LGBTI rights.

“The Lebanese authorities should stand by the band and demonstrate its commitment towards the right to freedom of expression and prevent advocacy of hatred and discrimination. They should respect, protect, promote and fulfil the human rights of individuals including their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as well as the security of person and protection from violence,” said Lynn Maalouf.

Background

In May 2018, the Internal Security Forces (ISF) banned several activities organized to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia and detained an organizer overnight. The ISF cited security concerns following threats by a radical Islamic group.

In October 2018, the General Security (GS) attempted to shut down a conference that hosted activists working on issues of gender and sexuality from the Middle East and North Africa, organized by the Arab Foundation for Freedom and Equality (AFE). The GS did not explain their concerns, but the action also followed threats by a radical Islamist group.

Despite being a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Lebanon is not currently meeting its obligations under the Covenant with regards to respecting, protecting, promoting and fulfilling the rights to freedom of expression of people in Lebanon. For example, legislative gaps such as article 13 of the Lebanese Constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of expression “within the limits established by law”, or articles 317, 474, 475 of the penal code that criminalize insulting a religion and inciting sectarianism, have facilitated the violation of individuals’ right to exercise their freedom of expression.