Detained Transgender in Lebanon: This is What Happened to Me

2016-02-23    |   

On September 3, 2015, the Beirut Civil Appeals Court issued a ruling permitting transgender individuals to change their records in the population registry.[1] This decision was the latest addition to a collection of rulings issued by various courts, to protect the rights of certain groups that routinely face detention and persecution; particularly, gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals.[2] Despite of these rulings, these individuals are often subject to arrest, detention, various forms of indignities, and physical and psychological torture.

Below is the testimony of a transgender individual, a Syrian national, who was recently detained in Lebanon. She told us the details of the humiliation she faced at the hands of members of the Lebanese security forces. The witness has requested that she remain anonymous.

The Narrative

I came to Lebanon two years ago. I have been through a lot since then. On January 12, 2016, I was arrested for the first time in my life. I was extremely anxious that day, because I did not have enough money to pay rent for my room. I had yet to learn about my status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) where my dossier had been in limbo for two years. I decided to go to Beirut’s promenade district of Raouche at 9pm.

I was near the Movenpick Hotel, and a man I did not know approached me. He was saying things like, “I was engaged, and I want to get married”, as if he wanted to get to know me. As we were talking, a man in gym clothes approached us and demanded that we both hand over our identity cards. I did not surrender mine and I immediately said to him, “she male” –that is, transgender– to explain that my outward appearance does not correspond to the gender indicated on my identity card. When he heard me say I was transgender, he changed 180 degrees and exploded in anger. He began to scream and curse: “Why do you do that to yourself, you animal.” Four men came out of a car (later, it was clear to me that they were on an “investigatory” patrol). They handcuffed the man that was standing and talking to me, and struck him on the head; as for me, they took me by my hair. They brought us both to the Ramlet Al-Baida police station.

The station was teeming with people. When we entered, the officer who had detained me started shouting at me: “Come on, stand over there.” That prompted the crowd of people to look right and left, wondering whom he was addressing. Then he turned to them and shouted, “This guy is a son of a whore, this guy is a son of a bitch”. The officers at the station took me into custody, and I remember the supervising officer there –I won’t forget him as long as I live, because he humiliated me for three days– saying, “Why do you do this to yourself, you animal! Don’t you fear God? Don’t you think about God’s judgement? Turn your face to the wall, lift your feet, lift your hands”. And he came close to me and spat in my face.

Then there was some confusion over where I would sleep. “If we put him with the men, they’ll     impregnate him, and if we put him with the women, he’ll assault them.” They called someone, I don’t know who. He advised them to have me sleep in an office next to the interrogation room, handcuffed to a chair. I asked to call a lawyer. The officer taunted me and asked, “Why do you have a lawyer? What do you want with her?” The handcuffs were very tight around my hand (you can still see the traces there) and I fell over every time I moved. Whenever that happened the officer would come up to me and hit me on the head. They took my mobile phone from me to check my photos and messages; they wanted to establish a charge of prostitution against me. They asked me what I had been doing in Raouche.

He asked me for the name of my friends, and “others like me in the country”. But he didn’t find anything on my phone, as I had been quick to erase photos and conversations from it as a precaution for a moment like this. His abuse towards me continued; he aimed blows at my head and said to me, “you aren’t going anywhere but back to your country Syria”. The interrogator took my identity card away from me, and wrote down two pages’ [worth of writing]. I don’t know what he wrote. He didn’t ask me any questions, and demanded to fingerprint me. After that he asked me to enter a room and take off my clothes, in order to confirm whether I was female or male, to confirm my identity. Of course, I was forced to do this: it was either remove my clothes or be deported. I allowed them to do it, saying to myself that if they confirmed that I was a man, maybe they would leave me alone. They started asking me how I arranged my chest. That happened at about two o’clock in the morning. Next, they decided to transfer my case to a criminal magistrate. And then the supervising officer began to photograph me with his phone and send photos to his friends, recording a video saying “we present to you this man…”.

The only officers left in the station were the supervising officer who kept humiliating me and one other person. The supervisor entered the interrogation room, closed the door, and turned off the light. He got close to me and took off my shirt and bra, and said, “you’re not a girl, you can have sex”. In front of [the others], I was a man; but [in this situation] I was a girl. He began to take off his clothes and demanded that I [perform oral sex; original expression redacted]. He was doing this to confirm the accusation of prostitution. I couldn’t stand it and began to scream. Disconcerted, he left the room.

I spent 24 hours alone and unable to move. They didn’t let me use the bathroom; I didn’t eat or drink anything. The officer threatened to hit me if he heard the sound of my chair moving. The next day they allowed me to make phone calls. I contacted the Lebanese LGBTIQ organization Helem and informed them that I was being detained at the Ramlet Al-Baida station. I couldn’t say any more to them for fear the supervising officer would cut off our conversation. That day, a person that they identified as the person who would decide what would happen to me came to the station to determine what would be done with me – according to what the officers told me. He looked at me and said, “I’ve never seen that before”. He decided to transfer me to Lebanese General Security. The representative from Helem came to the station, and I heard them asking him if he was “gay”. He didn’t respond. They didn’t allow him to see me in private; he asked me if there was anything I needed, and procured food and water for me.

After the representative from Helem left, they put me back in the interrogation room. An investigator and the person they had said would decide what would happen to me entered the room, along with a third person that everyone else called “sir”. The “sir” asked me, “Haven’t you thought of removing your breasts so you can f**k and not get f**ked, did you have plastic surgery? The picture on your identity card doesn’t look like you”. I told him I was born this way, and that I need to change my sex. They put me back in the room and chained me to the chair, again. Many people entered the room and looked at me and insulted me: “What has the world come to, that we can’t tell a boy from a girl anymore.” Some spat at me.

A woman from the UNHCR came; they didn’t allow her to speak with me, and she only stayed five minutes in the station before leaving. I slept for three days shackled to the chair. I had to plead with them when I wanted to use the bathroom, and wait for long periods of time before they would let me go.

Lebanese General Security

On the third day, at approximately 8:00am, they took me to the General Security offices. Once we arrived, a General Security officer [addressed me as a woman] said, “please, come this way”. When the policeman heard him he told him, “this is a man, son of a [expletive]. They brought me downstairs. A woman searched me above [the waist], and a man searched me below [the waist]. They told all of their colleagues about me, and everyone who was there, including security officials and detainees, gathered to look at me.

I was put in a cell by myself. I asked the officer for water, and he replied “not allowed”, with the knowledge that I was able to purchase water there. I rested in my cell. I sat and dozed until other officers came and started mocking me. The woman who had searched me came by, accompanied by her female colleagues, and they looked at me in my cell and laughed derisively.

After that they took me to interrogation, asking why I hadn’t renewed my papers, I told them that the Canadian embassy had told me not to, because I was waiting for an appointment to be naturalized in Canada. I started talking about myself using masculine pronouns, and the interrogator asked, “how come you look like a girl, but you talk about yourself as though you’re a boy?” I said that I was using the pronoun that people use to address me. Again, they asked for my fingerprints; I didn’t know what for. Afterwards they returned me to my cell; security officers kept coming, asking about my beard and my voice, and whether I had body hair. It was about 4:30 in the afternoon when they released me – on a temporary basis. But I won’t renew my papers; by the time my release period is over, I’ll be in Canada.

This article is an edited translation from Arabic.


[1] See: Youmna Makhlouf’s, “Lebanese Judicial Ruling: Respecting the Right to Sex Change”, The Legal Agenda, January 2016.
[2] See: Sarah Wansa’s, “Torture in Lebanon as a Systematic Practice (4): Groups Most Vulnerable to Torture”, The Legal Agenda, October 2014.

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