BEIRUT - Lebanese activists have celebrated a court ruling they say paves the way towards decriminalizing homosexuality in the small Middle Eastern country.
On Thursday, a Lebanese appeals court upheld the 2017 acquittal of nine people prosecuted over being gay.
A lower court had found in January that year that their homosexuality was "a practice of their fundamental rights."
Under a controversial article of the Lebanese penal code, sexual relations "against nature" are outlawed and punishable by up to one year in prison.
On Thursday, the Mount Lebanon appeals court found that, with this article, "legislators had not intended to criminalize homosexuality but rather offense to public morals."
The ruling means that "homosexual relations are not a crime, as long as they are between two adults and do not occur in a public space," said Karim Nammour, a lawyer and member of non-governmental advocacy organization Legal Agenda.
The verdict was the fifth of its kind, Nammour said on Tuesday, but the first by such a high-ranking court.
"The appeals court has a certain authority... It's higher in the hierarchy," he told AFP.
The ruling is "much more than symbolic. It could have repercussions on the way that lower court judges rule," he added.
Rights group Helem also celebrated the landmark ruling in a Twitter post on Friday.
"Congratulations for the LGBTQI+ community in Lebanon," wrote the group defending the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.
"The court of appeal endorses for the 1st time ruling by judge: Homosexuality is not a crime," it said in English.
While Lebanon is considered more tolerant of LGBT issues than other Arab states, police still stage raids on gay nightclubs and other venues.
Homosexuality is also often ridiculed on television shows.