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Atheists in Lebanon

Human rights violations report

Tuesday 23 August 2022, by siawi3


Case Studies Summary – Atheists in Lebanon

20 April 2021

The study of the discrimination against atheists in Lebanon has been enriched with forty interviews that give an in-depth, personal insight on the various aspects of social and legal challenges that face atheists and freethinkers in the country. A total of forty interviews were conducted with victims of discrimination or close friends of those who died.
All of the study subjects affirmed that they underwent serious forms of abuse, which included but were not limited to: physical violence, psychological violence, forced veiling, death and violence threats, illegal detention, discrimination in employment, restricted access to education and social services and restrictions on expressing personal beliefs.
Following are published the summaries of interviews with six atheists or freethinkers from Lebanon using aliases to protect the victims’ privacy. Thirty-four more cases can be found in the Case Studies report.


Case #8: Eddy
Work related discrimination

After having an interview on BBC about being an atheist, I got fired from my job at the school I worked at as a physics teacher. It was so sudden, and no one warned me about it. It was time to renew my contract in the summer. The headmaster invited me to his office and told me that I am a good professional person, but I appeared on BBC and spoke about my atheism. Hence, I have two choices, I either sign my resignation paper, or I get fired. Knowing how the country is, I knew that a lawsuit is going to be futile. I just signed my resignation paper and left.
I have also received negative comments before from people in my society regarding my atheism.


Case #12: Cynthia
Emotional and physical abuse because of refusal of wearing the veil

When I was child, I lived with my mother and brothers in the village, while my dad lived abroad for work. Right when I turned nine years old in 2003, my mom, along with members of my extended Muslim Shia family wanted me to start wearing the veil.
When they put that hijab on me, I felt suffocated and I just did not want to wear it, so I took it off right away, I threw it on the ground and stepped on it. That’s when the whole family got furious and teamed up against me. I was hit, I was forced to eat chili pepper as a punishment and I was locked in the bathroom for hours. From that day onwards, everybody treated me like I was “Satan” and my mom often called me a slut.
My mental health started to deteriorate ever since, and at 15 years old I tried to commit suicide by cutting my wrists, but I was hospitalized. That was the start of a series of suicide attempts. A few years later, after I turned 21, I finally managed to become financially independent and I could move out of my parent’s house.
I also did seek psychological help, but the doctor seemed to be uninterested in my story and didn’t really help me, I gave up on that after a few sessions. I currently have no relationship with my mother whatsoever, but my brothers are all atheists and I do get along well with them, I’m also on good terms with my dad.


Case #4: Charbel Khoury
Arrest and blasphemy charges because of a social media post

Back in July 2018, I posted, on my personal Facebook page a joke about a miracle that was supposedly performed by Mar Charbel. My goal was not to offend anyone or to disseminate atheism, I just though it is a funny joke. However, people got offended, and within two hours of that post I started to receive death threats in the comment’s section and in my inbox.
Most of the threats came from people who are affiliated with a known Christian political party.
A coworker of mine did physically attack me and threatened to kill me at my workplace, which is a very well-known publishing house. Instead of my employers taking action to protect me, they decided to terminate my employment. I did file a complaint against that coworker, but it was not taken seriously because according to the police I was “still alive”. I guess you would have to be murdered in order to be taken seriously. I also sued the employers for wrongful termination, but up until today I did not get any compensation.
A couple of days later I was informed that the aforementioned party, and the Maronite church are both suing me for ridiculing religion and its practices. I was taken by the police and I was questioned for over eight hours, where I was being insulted and threatened with guns. They wanted me to write a public apology which I refused to do. And eventually they made me delete my Facebook account and vow not to make any new account until after a month from that incident. Only then I was released.
A couple of my friends were also called for investigation because they shared or commented on my post.


Case #1: Hawraa Toufic
Lost custody battle that led to suicide in 2019 (interview with a friend of Hawraa)

Hawraa Toufic spent her 25 painful years on the planet protesting injustice. On February 1, 2019, she could fight no more: Heart broken and void of all hope, she decided to take her own life.
Hawraa, or Mila as she used to like to be called, was a mother of two and a victim of a dysfunctional religious marriage that would go on to cause her untimely death.
After her marriage failed, her husband refused to divorce her. Backed by the force of the Islamic Shi’aa religious court of Lebanon, he tricked and obliged her to give up the custody of her children so that he agrees to the divorce. Hawraa was later disowned by her family after they found out she was an atheist, and had to flee Lebanon and live in Egypt after receiving violent death threats from her husband and his family.
Hawraa tried her best, repeatedly, to see her children, or even talk to them, but it was all in vain. Neither the media, nor lawyers, or NGOs could help. The odds were all against her. More, importantly, the law was against her. When she realized that her chances of seeing her children again were vanishing, she started losing interest in everything. She lost her will to live and took her own life.
Her children will now grow up as orphans, probably without knowing the truth of what happened to their mother or why she left them.


Case #13: Samer
A veiled trans man

I was eight years old when I started to wear the veil, my family is a moderate Muslim family, but they do expect the daughters to be veiled, I did not mind at the time.
As I grew older, I started to realize that I don’t even identify as a girl, I am a trans man, I feel like a man and I want to act like one, I even felt attracted to my sister’s friends who used to come over and hang out at our place. The realization shocked me, as it goes against all of my religious beliefs. I started to feel that I’m sinning by thinking this way. At the time, I grew closer to religion and started to wear even longer and looser clothes in the hopes that god would help me get over these thoughts. That obviously did not work.
Around that time of my life is when I started to do deeper research about religion, that was when I discovered that being trans is not haram in the Shia sect. But that was also when I started to doubt religion. I did go through a period of fear and anxiety, as I felt that everything I previously believed in is now a lie.
After I became an atheist, I did discuss with my family the fact that I want to take the veil off, without telling them about my new found belief, or more precisely, the lack of it. My dad opposed me, and thought someone is manipulating me. He also said that he is afraid of the reactions of his direct and extended family members along with his friends and the society in general.
I wish to be able to take that piece of fabric off one day, and to start my transition journey and to be finally able to live as the person that I truly am.

Note: Samer managed to take the veil off a few days after conducting this interview.


Case #6: Zeinab
Forced veiling and religious oppression

My father started indoctrinating me about the veil at the age of 7 and so I ended up wearing it when I was 11, out of fear of being “hung in hell by my hair to burn for eternity” as I was told. I was obliged to pray, fast, read religious prayers and do all other religious duties since I was 8 . There was lot of domestic violence at home too, I’ve always been subjected to violence.
I always wanted to take off my veil. However, I always knew that confronting my parents was never an option. One day, I decided to secretly take off my veil for the first time in my life. This was the most liberating feeling I have ever felt, and so I started doing that more often, until one day my mom accidentally saw me. I panicked, ran away, and sent my father a message telling him that I hate the veil and would not come back home.
At this point, I was seeking help from a feminist NGO for a few months, so I went to their center straight away, and sought refuge there. My father then, threatened my best friend and her family and forced her to tell them where I was. He then went to the NGO and pressured them to see me by threatening them and contacting politicians he knows. I was then taken to meet my father who was asked by the social worker to sign a paper pledging that he will not abuse me, to which he responded with death threats and violence. I was then forced to go back home. I was obliged to visit sheikhs so I could get back on the right paths.
To my luck, I got a job opportunity in Europe. My parents caved in after I made them believe that I had no intention to take off the veil anymore. I also promised them financial assistance, besides the place I was promised to work at was a highly prestigious institution, so it was good for the family reputation.
The moment I stepped the airport in Europe, I immediately took off my veil in the airport and threw it away. I applied for asylum, and I am currently waiting for the decision to be taken in my case. I want to cut my parents off, but part of me is still weighed down.  I believe I need time to break the trauma-bond I have with them.