Pandemic lockdowns fueling rise of sexual extortion crimes in Lebanon

Coronavirus lockdowns are fueling an increase in sexual extortion crimes in Lebanon. (Reuters/File)
Short Url
Updated 27 October 2020

Pandemic lockdowns fueling rise of sexual extortion crimes in Lebanon

  • Most perpetrators have prior history, says security official

BEIRUT: Coronavirus lockdowns are fueling an increase in sexual extortion crimes in Lebanon, according to a security official.

Figures from the Lebanese Internal Security Forces showed that such crimes had risen significantly in recent months. Authorities received 47 complaints during July and 96 in August. The number of people arrested for these crimes this year has reached 133.

The security official, from the Public Relations Division at the General Directorate of the Internal Security Forces, said the victims of this type of extortion were aged between 11 and 60, and the percentage of female victims was greater than the percentage of male ones.

“Such incidents are repeated daily, and the perpetrators may be Lebanese or non-Lebanese,” the official told Arab News. “These crimes increased during the presence of people in (their) homes as a result of quarantine due to the outbreak of coronavirus and people, old and young, resorted to social media.”

Despite information warning people against taking inappropriate photos and videos and under any pressure exerted on them, the official said, sexual extortion crimes were repeated because fraud took many forms.

“Perpetrators show their victims a measure of love and care that makes the victims believe them and feel secure with them,” the official explained. “It does not usually take long to convince male victims, while female victims usually look for someone who gives them great emotion to trust him, which takes longer. Usually, the female victims may be girls who suffer from difficult social conditions, and the start of the process of their extortion may take longer than with the male victims.”

Most of the perpetrators in sexual extortion operations had a prior history of such activity and were involved in fraud because it was lucrative, the official added.

The latest crime recorded by the Office of Combating Information Crimes and Protection of Intellectual Property in the Judicial Police Unit revealed that a Lebanese national was threatened with the publication of intimate photographs by someone she had met through Facebook.

A romantic relationship began between the two and she had sent him private photos and videos. He started threatening to upload these unless she sent him money, cell phone recharge cards, and new intimate images and videos of her. He also contacted and threatened one of her relatives, who capitulated and sent him more than 20 recharge cards and sums of money.

Brigadier Fadl Daher, a specialist in criminology and punishment and professor of criminal social studies, said there were three basic reasons for people committing this type of crime. 

“The financial motive is the basis for crimes against money. These crimes resort, in most cases, to defamation, and they become more common when the surveillance and prosecution are reduced, and the perpetrator believes that he would not be held accountable,” he explained. “In the time of coronavirus, the family returned home but ... every person in the house resorted to social media so no one knows what the other is doing within the same house.”

Daher said that poverty and need made people resort to all available means to obtain financial returns, and that extortion through social media may be one of those methods as the difficulty of arresting people who used social media to commit their crimes was four times higher than arresting those who committed their crimes in the street.

“The danger of these crimes is that they may target children and minors,” he added. “The lack of a social safety net through leniency in uncovering these crimes or talking about them led us in the past not to raise any talk about taboos to address them, and launching any campaign to break the silence now by asking victims to call the hotline is not helpful. An integrated mechanism of psychological, judicial and social treatment is required.”


Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.