The government of Lebanon has apparently ordered the gay dating app Grindr blocked for most users in the Arab country.
The Independent reports the Arab nation’s state-owned internet service provider, Ogero, blocked access to the app on the orders of the public prosecutor’s office, and that all internet providers will soon follow suit.
No explanation has been given for the ban, but the court order responsible for the action specifically stated that the app “secures romantic sexual liaisons for homosexuals and bisexuals.”
Instinct reported a similar ban of the app in January, but that was short-lived as access was restored. At the time, the government denied any involvement.
Tarek Zeidan, executive director of Helem, one of the oldest LGBTQ advocacy groups in the region, explains the absence of public spaces for gays to openly meet underscores the importance of the dating app for Lebanese LGBTQs.
“Digital forms of communication like Grindr break the isolation that members of the community feel as many still live with family,” he told The Independent.
“Grindr has also become an effective way to disseminate life-saving information on sexual health and safety – this move will set these efforts back significantly, especially when it comes to contacting difficult-to-reach populations such as individuals living in rural areas, closeted or discreet individuals, and refugees which constitute a sizeable portion of the community,” he added.
Even though Lebanon has been traditionally viewed as one of the more liberal countries in the Middle East in regard to LGBTQ rights, some activists believe this is just the beginning of a series of attacks on the community.
Georges Azzi, executive director of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, told the Independent, “This is not an independent incident, this is part of a bigger campaign and strategy to limit the spaces of the LGBT community.”
“The groups behind this campaign operate in an atmosphere where the government and security apparatuses are encouraging attacks on freedom of expression,” added Azzi. “We are being controlled by medieval forces.”
Some activists are advising users to use VPN service to bypass the ban.
Recent news reports show a mixed bag when it comes to LGBTQ rights and status.
Last year, judges ruled Article 534 of Lebanon’s penal code could not be applied to consensual sex between adults of the same sex. The early 20th century law had been used to persecute gays calling for punishment for “any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature.”
Lebanon joins Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on the list of Middle East countries that ban Grindr.