A Beirut-based gay rights group that recently won an award for its work has complained of brutality after two men were beaten up and arrested by soldiers.

In a statement on its website Helem condemned last Thursday’s attack, which was first reported by a human rights group.

Two gay men were having sex in the lobby of an uninhabited building in Ashrafieh, a suburb of Beirut, when they were discovered by Lebanese Army soldiers, dragged out into the street and severly beated.

“One, half naked, was even exhibited bystanders attracted to the show, just for fun,” according to Helem.

Bystanders intervened and the beating ended.

The men were held overnight at a military barracks and have been handed over to civil authorities. They remain in custody.

Helem said:

“It is high time that the country’s lawmakers looked at an obsolete, ridiculous law that condemns and punishes homosexuality in Lebanon.

“At a time when gay marriage is permitted in many countries, the authorities hypocritically deny the simplest expression of reality, but they will have to face one day or another.”

Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code prohibits sexual relations that are “contradicting the laws of nature,” which is punishable by up to a year in prison.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) announced last week that it would award its 2009 Felipa de Souza Award to Helem.

The Award recognises the courage and effectiveness of groups or leaders dedicated to improving the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) and other individuals stigmatised and abused because of their sexuality or HIV status.

IGLHRC said:

“The first organisation in the Arab world to set up a gay and lesbian community centre, Helem’s work has consistently broken new ground in a country that criminalises homosexuality and where violence and abuse are persistent problems.”

Founded in 2004, Helem (the Arabic acronym of “Lebanese Protection for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender”) is based in Beirut, with support chapters in Australia, France, Canada and the United States.

The Felipa Award will be presented to Helem as part of IGLHRC’s A Celebration of Courage gala event on March 30 2008 in New York and on April 2 2008 in San Francisco.