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Lebanon activists escalate pressure to scrap controversial rape law

Lebanese NGO Abaad has spearheaded protests against the controversial law [AFP]

Date of publication: 22 April, 2017

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A proposal to scrap Article 522 of the penal code will go before parliament on May 15 and activists hope that MPs will vote to eliminate it.
Activists in Lebanon have escalated their campaign to scrap a controversial law allowing rapists who marry their victims to go free.

A proposal to scrap Article 522 of the penal code - which deals with rape, assault, kidnapping and forced marriage - was introduced last year and approved by a parliamentary committee in February.

It will go before parliament on May 15 and activists hope that MPs will vote to eliminate it.

On Saturday, 31 wedding dresses made of white lace and wrapping paper were hung from makeshift nooses between four palm trees along the Lebanese capital's corniche to put pressure on legislators.

Organisers at the open-air exhibition also urged passers-by to sign a petition demanding that parliament prioritise the article's elimination.

"There are 31 days in a month and every single day, a woman may be raped and forced to marry her rapist," said Alia Awada, advocacy manager at Lebanese non-government organisation ABAAD.

"We are trying as much as we can to shed light on this issue and tell parliament that the time has come for them to vote on cancelling Article 522."

The reviled article, which also deals with the rape of minors, allows offenders to escape punishment by wedding their victims.

"If a valid marriage contract exists between the perpetrator of one of these crimes... and the abused, the prosecution is suspended," it reads.

"If a verdict has been issued, the implementation is suspended."

Awada said: "We called on all parliamentarians and decision-makers in the Lebanese state with this message: every 'yes' from you is a 'no' to a rapist." 

Minister for Women's Affairs Jean Oghassabian, who attended Saturday's protest along Beirut's sunny promenade, described the article as being "from the stone age".

"Its turn has come, it's the second item on the agenda" at an upcoming legislative session on May 15, Oghassabian, who is also an MP, told AFP.  

Lebanese artist Mireille Honein designed the exhibition in Paris and brought it to Lebanon this week. She said she made the dresses out of white paper "to highlight the ephemeral nature of marriage and of laws". 

"And I hung them up, because this type of law simply robs women of their essence, leaves them without an identity and suspends them in a life that does not suit them and is shameful for those imposing it on them," Honein told AFP

The controversial article deals with rape, including against minors, assault, kidnapping and forced marriage.

In December, the New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Lebanon to repeal Article 522, saying it "allows for a second assault on a rape survivor's rights".

"Protecting honour should be about ensuring that attackers are punished and promoting social attitudes that support survivors of sexual violence instead of stigmatising them," the rights watchdog said.

Lebanon largely leaves so-called personal status issues to the discretion of religious authorities of the country's 18 recognised sects.

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