Lebanese security authorities imposed a crackdown on a gay cinema in Beirut on Saturday and closed the movie house, arresting 36 male attendees and performing anal probes on them. The anti-gay campaign to pull the plug on gay cinemas in major Lebanese cities is gaining traction.

The website  NOW Lebanon reported on Wednesday that the theatre, Plaza Cinema, was not the first such venue that Lebanese authorities had shut down. The Lebanese talk show host, Joe Maalouf, launched a high-intensity campaign on his show “Enta Horr” (“You’re Free”) on Murr TV (MTV) to ramp up persecution of Lebanon’s LGBT community.

According to a Thursday report on the liberal Egyptian web news outlet Bikya Masr , on his 28 July programme: “Maalouf made explicit reference to a porn cinema in Beirut where it is known that men have sexual encounters with other men. He claimed that the authorities were protecting ‘perverts’ and demanded the authorities to act upon it.

“Quickly thereafter, the cinema was raided, 36 men arrested and were subjected to anal examinations, supposedly to prove their homosexuality. MTV reported on the arrest of the 36 men with viciously homophobic language.”

The Lebanon-based Helem (an Arabic acronym for “Lebanese Protection for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders”), has sharply criticized Makhlouf.

Georges Azzi, a co-founder of the NGO Helem, established contact with the Hobeiche Barracks, where the 36 men were being detained, according to NOW Lebanon. He reported that the men had undergone anal examinations.

NOW Lebanon reported that Ziad Nabulsi, a spokesman for the Lebanese Association for Education and Training, accused the show of fanning the flames of hostile rhetoric by terming homosexuality an anomaly.  Human rights lawyer Nizar Saghieh told  NOW Lebanon  that a statement condemning the probes and calling for an end to the practice had been sent to the Ministry of Justice. “It is shameful that it still exists,” said Saghieh.

According to the NOW Lebanon report, “the practice involves an egg-shaped device being inserted into the anus to find traces of sperm. It has been widely criticized by human rights organizations, which call the practice outdated, discriminatory and a violation of human dignity.”

In an email to PinkNews.co.uk on Wednesday, journalist Michael J Totten, an author at the website World Affairs who has written about Lebanon, said he was surprised to hear of last week’s incident.

“I wouldn’t describe Lebanon as a bastion of gay rights, but it’s much more advanced than anywhere else in the Arab world,” he wrote.

“Homosexuality is still technically illegal there, but I’ve met a number of out gay Lebanese in Beirut, and the city has a number of gay and gay-friendly night clubs.”

Nonetheless, he said, “it shouldn’t be surprising… that the country where Hezbollah lives still has a long way to go.”

The Islamic Republic of Iran is Hezbollah’s main patron and both groups are part of the  same global terror network. The Mullah-clerical regime practices lethal homophobia in Iran.

Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code bars sexual relations that are “contradicting the laws of nature,” and can result in a prison term of up to one year. Despite the penal code, which has not been eliminated, a Lebanese judge issued a ruling in Batroun in 2009 that same-sex relations did not violate natural laws.

Still, Lebanon’s LGBT community is not insulated from violence and homophobia, and remains in a kind of underground existence.  In 2009, Lebanese army soldiers detained and severely beat two gay men who were having sex in the lobby of an unoccupied building in the Beirut suburb of Ashrafieh.

Stuart Appelbaum, a leading gay rights activist in New York and head of the Jewish Labor Committee, condemned these incidents.

“These Lebanese attempts to dehumanize and criminalize people because of their sexuality are far beyond anything remotely resembling common decency,” he wrote to PinkNews.co.uk  on Wednesday. “These actions are a stain on Lebanese society. We all must express our outrage.”

Yoav Sivan, a journalist  who has written about LGBT topics in the Mideast region, told PinkNews.co.uk ,“Regrettably, the way forward toward LGBT inclusion comes too often at people’s personal cost. Lebanon’s close diplomatic and economic partners, such as France, the US and other EU countries, should ask the Lebanese Government for explanations.“

Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based investigative reporter and a Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He can be followed on Twitter  @BenWeinthal