Push against contentious Lebanese rape law heats up

The exhibit in Beirut by non-governmental organisation ABAAD, which features 31 wedding dresses hanging from nooses, is part of the campaign against the controversial Article 522 of the Penal Code, which allows rapists who marry their victims to go f
The exhibit in Beirut by non-governmental organisation ABAAD, which features 31 wedding dresses hanging from nooses, is part of the campaign against the controversial Article 522 of the Penal Code, which allows rapists who marry their victims to go free. ABAAD is urging Lebanese citizens to sign a petition demanding Parliament prioritise the Article's elimination.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIRUT • Lebanese activists ramped up their campaign to scrap a controversial law allowing rapists who marry their victims to go free, with a dramatic installation along Beirut's sunny seaside.

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 Members of Parliament will vote to eliminate it.

Last Saturday, they urged Lebanese citizens to sign a campaign to ramp up the pressure on legislators at an open-air exhibit.

Thirty-one wedding dresses made of white lace and wrapping paper hung limply from makeshift nooses between four palm trees along the Lebanese capital's corniche.

"There are 31 days in a month and every single day, a woman may be raped and forced to marry her rapist," said Ms 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 marrying 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."

Standing amid the fluttering wedding dresses, Minister for Women's Affairs Jean Oghassabian 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, said Mr Oghassabian, who is also an MP.

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

As passers-by paused to look at the ghostly installation, volunteers from ABAAD invited them to sign a petition demanding Parliament prioritise the Article's elimination.

Silver-haired Rafiq Ajouri, who hails from a southern Lebanese village, was persuaded to sign while on his morning stroll. "If I were to get raped, why wouldn't I get my rights? I'd want people to stand beside me," he said.

But the elderly man, who has five sons and three daughters, hesitated when an ABAAD volunteer said women should be allowed the same liberties as men. "They can have their freedoms, but within limits. Why? Because they're girls," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2017, with the headline 'Push against contentious Lebanese rape law heats up'. Print Edition | Subscribe