Lebanon's first sexual harassment trial delayed by public workers strike

Economic crisis holds up landmark case after new legislation was brought in

A Lebanese woman poses with her face painted with a red hand during a demonstration against sexual harassment, rape and domestic violence in the Lebanese capital Beirut on December 7, 2019. (Photo by Patrick BAZ / Abaad / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / ABAAD / PATRICK BAZ - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS -
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The first trial for a sexual harassment case since it was criminalised in Lebanon last year was postponed on Thursday because of a public sector strike.

The hearing for the case was scheduled for Thursday morning but has been delayed until April.

Lawyer Ayman Raad, who represents five alleged victims of sexual harassment by film director Jaafar Al Attar, said he is hoping to have the case heard sooner.

“We can file a request to change the hearing to an earlier date, but normally it should happen in April,” he said.

The economic crisis in Lebanon is overshadowing what Lebanese feminists said could be a landmark case for women in the country.

Public sector workers have been on strike since last week, with Justice Palace workers joining on Monday to protest against poor living conditions as Lebanon enters its third year of economic crisis.

The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 per cent of its value since 2019. The minimum wage of 675,000 Lebanese pounds, once worth $450, is now equal to about $32.

The five women brought complaints against Al Attar in May. He denies the claims.

The case rose to national attention in May when women began sharing testimonies of harassment against Al Attar on social media, prompting a conversation about a subject that is usually taboo.

The police contacted the women to open an investigation into the claims after they spoke to local media. The general prosecution decided to move forward with the case and pressed charges for sexual harassment.

Lebanon passed a new law criminalising harassment in December. The legislation defines sexual harassment as "negative behaviour" of a sexual nature that could be repeated, and targets victims of all genders. It includes pressuring people to perform sexual acts against their will.

Those convicted face anything from a month to four years in prison.

Updated: November 11, 2021, 11:54 AM