Lebanon bans two films in setback for tolerant image
By Stephen Kalin
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon has banned the screening of a film about homosexuality and another on short-term "pleasure marriages" practiced in some Muslim communities, in a blow to its reputation as a bastion of tolerance in a deeply conservative region.
The films, which had been due to be shown at the Beirut International Film Festival that opened last week, were blocked by a government censorship committee, festival organizers said.
Confirming the bans, an Interior Ministry spokesman cited a Lebanese news report which attributed the decision to "obscene scenes of kissing between gay men, philandering, naked men and sexual intercourse between men" in one film and "sex scenes that offend public opinion and obscene language" in the other.
Critics took to local media and the Internet over the weekend to denounce the bans but festival director Colette Naufal said they could only be overturned by the interior minister, a move she considered highly unlikely.
Naufal said the decision represented a step backwards for Lebanon after several years when the festival had been permitted to show controversial films, including one about pedophilia.
"Lebanon has one thing that stands out: its freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom of everything," she told Reuters. "That's the difference between Lebanon and the whole of the Middle East."
One of the banned films is "L'Inconnu du Lac" (Stranger by the Lake) from French director Alain Guiraudie, which deals with a homosexual relationship between two men. It was screened this year at Cannes Film Festival.
Homosexuals face discrimination and alienation in Lebanon and have been prosecuted for years under a law forbidding "acts against nature", which judges often interpret as criminalizing sex between men. Continued...