A Lebanese immigrant facing sexual assault charges involving his infant son is caught in the middle of a culture clash between Western law and Eastern tradition. The Wake County courts will have to settle the question: Is the 24-year-old North Raleigh man a sex offender or an affectionate father?
Raleigh police have accused Charbel “Charlie” Hamaty, 24, of 5835-A Pointer Drive of first-degree sexual offense based on photographs of
himself and his 6-year-old daughter kissing his 2-month-old son’s groin area.
An Eckerd Drug employee contacted police after two of the photographs were developed there, and a search of Hamaty’s home turned up a
handful more. If convicted of the most serious offense, Hamaty faces life in prison. His daughter and son have been removed from the home and taken into the custody of a local social service agency.
The depiction of Hamaty as a criminal is disputed by both his lawyers
and the more than 100 supporters who crammed a Wake courtroom twice
this week for hearings related to the charges against Hamaty and his
The supporters, mainly from the local Lebanese community, wore red
ribbons that said “Support the Hamatys.” They said the charges are the
result of a misinterpretation of a half-dozen photographs among more
than 100 snapshots.
“We understand why the police did this, but there are innocent
explanations for all of this,” said Raleigh lawyer Daniel Boyce.
Boyce has received offers of support from the World Lebanese Cultural
Union, the Lebanese embassy and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination
Committee, based in Washington. “We’re afraid there might be some
cultural misunderstanding,” said Kareem Shora, the committee’s
director of legal policy.
Such kisses are signs of affection, not sexual abuse, ruled the Maine
Supreme Court in 1996 when it overturned a sexual assault conviction
of an Afghan immigrant who was similarly photographed with his
18-month-old son. The court ruled that the father kissing his son’s
penis was a common cultural practice and not a sexual act.
“Kissing a young son on every part of his body is considered a sign
only of love and affection for the child,” the court said in its
ruling. “There is nothing sexual about this practice.”
“It shouldn’t be looked at as a crime,” said Ludwig Adamec, a
professor emeritus of Middle East history at the University of
Arizona’s Center for Near Eastern Studies, who testified as an expert
in the Maine case.
Hamaty, who works delivering pizza and three other jobs to support his
family, is charged with first-degree forcible sex offense and two
counts of sexual exploitation of a minor. His 34-year-old wife, who
works as a nurse, is charged with two counts of first-degree sexual
exploitation of a minor.
That the Hamatys took the photos to the drug store proves their
innocence to the Rev. Claude Franklin of the St. Sharbel Maronite
Mission, where the Hamatys’ relatives attend church.
“If you’re going to do something illegal, you would use a digital
camera and put them on the Internet,” Franklin said. “If you were
doing something criminal, you wouldn’t take the photos to Eckerd
On Thursday during a bond hearing, Boyce said the photos have been
taken out of context. Plus, Boyce said, police found no child
pornography in the couple’s home and no Internet access. In support of
reducing Hamaty’s $500,000 bail, Boyce argued that Hamaty’s release
would pose no risk to the community, his children, the witnesses or
However, Assistant Wake District Attorney Jacquie Brewer argued that
federal immigration officials have sought to detain Hamaty for
potential deportation because his work visa has expired and he has
failed to register with federal authorities as post-Sept. 11, 2001,
Boyce said Hamaty had hired an immigration lawyer more than a year ago
to resolve a dispute with federal officials since he believes his
status has changed by marrying his wife, who is a U.S. citizen.
Wake District Court Judge Paul Gessner agreed to reduce the bail to
$250,000 and allow electronic house arrest with a number of
conditions. While out on bond, Hamaty cannot be alone with any
children under the age of 16, must surrender all photographic and
video equipment and can have no contact with his children or the
Gessner also ordered Hamaty to cooperate with social workers in their
investigation of the incidents. As of Friday, Hamaty was still being
held at the Wake County Detention Center.