Lebanese band's concert cancelled over religious row

BEIRUT, Weedah Hamzah (dpa)- A Lebanese music festival has cancelled a concert by rock band Mashrou' Leila, whose lead singer is openly gay, after pressure by Christian groups.
The Byblos International Festival committee said they had cancelled the concert, which was scheduled for August 9, "to prevent bloodshed and to maintain security and stability," according to a statement carried by the state-run Lebanese National News Agency.
The committee expressed regret and apologized to fans.
Mashrou' Leila are a Lebanese four-member indie rock group formed in 2008, whose lead singer Hamed Sinno is openly gay. The band, whose members are often outspoken on social issues, have been banned in Jordan and Egypt.
Shortly after the cancellation, Mashrou' Leila issued a statement saying that none of their songs are about religious beliefs.
"Everything that happened was a result of a defaming campaign and baseless accusations," the group said.
They also stressed that their songs respect all religious beliefs and that the members of the band belong to different religious groups.
"The whole process, ending with the decision by the Byblos Festival committee to cancel the concert, has been very hard and stressful," the group added.
The group also thanked their fans for standing by them through this difficult time.
The Catholic Information Centre in Beirut, affiliated with the Catholic Church, had been calling for the cancellation of the concert.
Father Abdo Abu Kasem, head of the centre, told dpa: "We are with freedom as long as it does not touch religion."
The Christian Maronite Church in Byblos had also called for the concert to be cancelled, saying that the group's songs "violate holy Christian values."
Last week, the band said in a statement that they were being subjected to a "defamatory campaign [relying] exclusively on fabrications that couldn't be further from the truth, to crush freedom of expression."
After the row began this month, Human Rights Watch said it reflected "the alarming crackdown on free speech in a country once proud to embrace diversity."
Muslims make make up around 58 per cent of the population in Lebanon, split roughly evenly between Sunni and Shi'ite. Christians make up some 36 per cent.

Tuesday, July 30th 2019
Weedah Hamzah (dpa)

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