Lebanese General Security officers unlawfully attempted to shut down an LGBTQ conference on September 29, according to Human Rights Watch.

The conference, called NEDWA, was organized by the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE), a group that works to advance LGBTQ and other human rights.

On the conference’s third day, officers from General Security – an intelligence branch of Lebanese security forces that oversees the entry and exit of foreigners into the country – arrived at the hotel the conference was being held. They questioned AFE executive director Georges Azzi, demanding he cancel the conference and sign a pledge to cease any conference-related activities.

Azzi refused, and the officers ordered the hotel to shut down the conference. AFE had to move the conference to a different hotel for its final day.

The NEDWA conference has taken place annually in Beirut since 2013.

The attempted shut-down followed public statements from the Muslim Scholars Association accusing the organizers of promoting homosexuality and drug abuse. The association called for the organizers’ arrest and the cancellation of the conference on the grounds of “incitement to immorality.”

In July of this year, homosexuality was legalized after a district court of appeal dismissed charges under article 534 of the Penal Code – which criminalizes “any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature – denouncing the law as discriminatory and declaring homosexuality as not “unnatural.”

Lama Fakih, the deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said that the efforts to shut down the conference were “an attack of assembly rights and an attempt to silence the voices of courageous activists.”

“The crackdown on a conference of LGBT rights activistsis a step backward that threatens activists not just in Lebanon but throughout the Middle East and North Africa,” Fakih added.

The Lebanese government has previously tried to shut down human rights events surrounding gender and sexuality. In May of this year, the Internal Security Forces detained a prominent LGBTQ rights activist and pressured him to cancel events associated with Beirut Pride.

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