LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia
|LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia|
|Same-sex sexual activity legal?||Illegal|
|Lashings, fines, floggings, prison time up to life, torture, chemical castrations, whipping torture, and/or Death penalty on first offense. If convicted twice, you will be executed. Vigilante executions are very common as well, especially by families who want to "save face". The police participate in executions/torture or turn a blind eye to it. Islamic Sharia law is strictly and emphatically applied
|Discrimination protections||No protection, discrimination is encouraged, enforced and heavily applied to the LGBT community|
|No recognition of same-sex relationships|
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
The rights of LGBT people in Saudi Arabia are unrecognized. Homosexuality is frequently a taboo subject in Saudi Arabian society and is punished with imprisonment, fines, corporal punishment, capital punishment, whipping/flogging, and chemical castrations. Transgenderism is generally associated with homosexuality.
Saudi Arabia has no criminal code as traditionally the legal system of Saudi Arabia has consisted of royal decrees and the legal opinions of Muslim judges and clerics, and not legal codes/written law. Much of the subsequent written law has focused on the areas of economics and foreign relations. Reformists have often called for codified laws, and there does appear to be a trend within the country to codify, publish, and even translate some Saudi criminal and civil laws.
In 1928, the Saudi judicial board advised Muslim judges to look for guidance in two books by the Hanbalite jurist Marʿī ibn Yūsuf al-Karmī al-Maqdisī (d.1033/1624). Liwat (sodomy) is to be
"treated like fornication, and must be punished in the same way. If muḥṣan [commonly translated as "adulterer" but technically meaning someone who has had legal intercourse, but who may or may not currently be married] and free [not a slave], one must be stoned to death, while a free bachelor must be whipped 100 lashes and banished for a year."
Sodomy is proven either by the perpetrator confessing four times or by the testimony of four trustworthy Muslim men, who have been eyewitnesses to the act. If there are fewer than four witnesses, or if one of them is not upstanding, they are all to be chastised with 80 lashes for slander.
It is unclear how many people have been executed for sodomy. Some of the official news reports on persons convicted of sodomy seem to provide conflicting opinions.
Laws are enforced by the police and the "religious police" known as the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which views combating homosexuality as one of the behaviors it concentrates on along with heterosexual "immorality", consumption of alcohol and magic.
In 2000 the Saudi government reported that it had sentenced nine Saudi men to extensive prison terms with lashing for engaging in cross-dressing and homosexual relations. That same year the government executed three Yemeni male workers for homosexuality and child molestation.
In May 2005, the government arrested 92 men for homosexuality, who were given sentences ranging from fines to prison sentences of several months and lashings. Likewise, on 7 November 2005 Riyadh police raided what the Saudi press called a "beauty contest for gay men" at al-Qatif. What became of the five men arrested for organizing the event is not known.
In October 2007, British human rights activists protested recent reports that the Saudi government was sending British mosques material urging the killing of gays and subjugation of women.
Persons caught living in the kingdom illegally are often accused of other crimes, involving illegal drugs, pornography, prostitution and homosexuality. Several such police crackdowns were reported in 2004–2005. A similar raid in 2008 netted Filipino workers arrested on charges of alcohol and gay prostitution. The Arab News article on the arrests stated, "Gay rights are not recognized in the Middle East countries and the publication of any material promoting them is banned".
International protests from human rights organizations prompted some Saudi officials within the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington D.C. to unofficially and incorrectly imply that their kingdom will only use the death penalty when someone has been convicted of child molestation, rape, sexual assault, murder or engaging in anything deemed to be a form of political advocacy.
In 2010, Prince Saud bin Abdulaziz bin Nasir al Saud was charged with the murder of his male companion while on holiday in London. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to a long prison term. According to the prosecutor, the Prince sexually and physically abused his servant as well as paid other men for sexual services.
Criminal charges are often brought by the government sanctioned Committee for Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. For example. In 2010, a 27-year-old Saudi man was sentenced to five years in prison, 500 lashes of the whip, and a SR50,000 fine after appearing in an amateur gay video online allegedly taken inside a Jeddah prison. According to an unnamed government source, “The District Court sentenced the accused in a homosexuality case that was referred to it by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Hai’a) in Jeddah before he was tried for impersonating a security man and behaving shamefully and with conduct violating the Islamic teachings.” The case started when the Hai’a’s staff arrested the man under charges of practicing homosexuality. He was referred to the Bureau for Investigation and Prosecution, which referred him to the District Court.
Even government officials are not immune from criminal sanctions. A gay Saudi diplomat named Ali Ahmad Asseri applied for asylum in the United States after the Saudi government discovered his sexuality.
Recent reports of people being executed for homosexuality often add other charges to the offense, typically theft, rape or murder. For example, a gay Yemeni was executed for homosexuality and murder in 2013.
In 2014, a 24-year-old Saudi Arabian man was sentenced to three years detention and 450 lashes after a Medina court found him guilty of “promoting the vice and practice of homosexuality,” after he was caught using Twitter to arrange dates with other men.
Right to privacy
The Saudi Constitution does not provide for a right to privacy. The government can, with a court order, search homes, vehicles, places of business and intercept private communications. People living in the kingdom should assume that communications can be seized by the government for evidence in a criminal trial.
Discrimination and civil rights
Saudi Arabia has no laws against discrimination or hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Advocacy for LGBT rights is illegal within the kingdom.
The required exit and entry visa paperwork does not ask people about their sexual orientation, as it does their nationality, sex, religion and marital status. No same-sex marriage, domestic partnership or civil union has any legal standing in the nation and may be used as evidence to initiate criminal proceedings.
In 2011, Mirel Radoi, a Romanian football player who plays for the Saudi Alhilal Club, was fined 20,000 Saudi Riyals and suspended for two matches after calling a Saudi Arabian football player, Hussein Abdul Ghani, who plays for Nasr Club, gay. The public comment, intended as an insult, was highly controversial and generated quite a bit of coverage in the Saudi press, including the refusal of Hussein Abdul Ghani to shake hands with Mirel Radoi after a later game.
In 2013, the Gulf Cooperative Countries, which Saudi Arabia is a member, announced plans to ban LGBT foreigners from entering Gulf countries. The ban would reportedly be enforced through some type of test .
The Saudi government censors all forms of communications for themes deemed to be offensive to the royal family or Islam. This includes all newspapers, magazines, comic books, advertisements, film, television broadcasts, Internet webpages, CDs, VHSs, DVDs, cassette tapes, and all video or computer software that is sold in the kingdom. This includes people bringing such material into the kingdom, even if it is for personal use.
Royal decrees, i.e. Royal Decree for Printed Material and Publications of 1982, regulate and censor journalists, media content and media distribution within the kingdom, with fines and imprisonment for violators. Since the 1990s, Saudi newspapers and other publications have been permitted to make occasional reference to LGBT themes, often in terms of criminal law or the number of people infected with AIDS-HIV in the kingdom. However, sodomy, homosexuality and cross-dressing are only spoken of as sign of immorality, criminality, disease, defect or Western decadence. No endorsement of gay rights is permitted.
Public movie theaters have been unofficially banned since the early 1980s, although there is some public discussion about lifting this ban, with a four-day film festival being allowed to exist. Home movies, including VHS and DVDs, are allowed, if they have been censored, and sold in many stores. However, Saudi Customs agents do keep a list of films that are not permitted to enter the kingdom, and will be confiscated.
Satellite television exists in a legal gray area. It used to be illegal, although the ban was often ignored and recent polling data suggests that over ninety percent of Saudi households have satellite television. While it is still technically illegal, the government has started up its own satellite stations, and has been in the works to develop a pan-Arab censorship policy to crack down on live talk shows and other programming that features controversial political discussions and debates.
The Saudi government has frequently blocked Internet users in the kingdom from accessing web pages that deal with LGBT political or social issues, even if they are not pornographic. These blocks are sometimes temporarily removed due to international criticism.
In 2001, Saudi teacher and playwright Muhammad Al-Suhaimi was charged with promoting homosexuality and after a trial was sentenced to prison. In 2006, he was given a pardon and allowed to resume teaching.
In 2010, a twenty-seven-year-old Saudi man was charged with homosexuality and impersonating a police officer when he posted a comical video of himself online, where he discusses popular culture, shows off his chest hair and flirts with the camera man. He was sentenced to a year in prison, with 1,000 lashes, and ordered to pay a fine of 5,000 rials (US $1,333).
Political organizations are not allowed in the kingdom, and no public organization, club or society would be allowed to endorse LGBT human rights or even act as a social network for LGBT people in the kingdom. The underground Green Party of Saudi Arabia[importance?] is the only party that has endorsed the LGBT human rights movement and called for greater public openness about sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
Despite the harsh laws and occasional enforcement, a number of non-Saudi journalists who have talked to LGBT Saudis in the kingdom have noted an active gay sex scene there. At least one journalist (Brian Whitaker) has found a paradoxical lack of correlation between formal law and state's behavior towards LGBT people in the Arab Middle East. Though there is no law against same-sex acts in Egypt, gays "are prosecuted and persecuted". In Saudi Arabia "gay men cruise and party undeterred," despite the fact that "in theory" they could be punished with the death penalty for gay sex.
Another journalist (John R. Bradley, a former editor of Arab News), noted that as of 2003, "gay and lesbian discos, gay-friendly coffee shops, and even gay-oriented Internet chat rooms" were "flourishing in the three big Saudi cities" (Riyadh, Mecca-Jeddah, Dammam). It was not uncommon for Western expatriates "between the ages of 20 and 50" to experience "being propositioned by respectable-looking Saudi men", often quite traditional in appearance, "at any time of the day or night, quite openly and usually very, very persistently." While "the self-consciously `gay` (or LGBT subculture") of the West was/is not tolerated, homosexuality itself was "almost as ubiquitous in Saudi Arabia as the wearing of long white robes."
Bradley and another journalist (Nadya Labi) interviewed gay Saudi men who compared their life favorably to that of heterosexuals' lives in Saudi. One noting
It’s a lot easier to be gay than straight here, ... If you go out with a girl, people will start to ask her questions. But if I have a date upstairs and my family is downstairs, they won’t even come up.
According to another,
We have more freedom [in Saudi] than straight couples. After all, they can't kiss in public like we can, or stroll down the street holding one another's hand.
Still another noted author with experience in the kingdom, (Robert Lacey), quotes a Saudi women who fled an unhappy marriage for a relationship with a woman, as saying
In this society you are mad if you have an affair with a man. With a woman it is safe. No one can question why you spend an evening at home together.
While mixing of the sexes, (never mind dating) is forbidden in Saudi, the holding of hands and even exchange of light kisses among men is "considered normal, and carries no obvious homosexual connotations". Bradley calls Saudi "a world that prisoners or sailors in the West would easily recognize", one "where enforced segregation from women forces men to turn to one another for comfort and sexual gratification." Speculating as to why the otherwise active "religious police" ignore a gay disco featuring drag queens, Bradley states that "the only explanation" seems to be "that everyone in Saudi Arabia (including the religious police) seems to be in agreement that boys going with boys is an inevitable consequence of keeping girls pure until they are married, and in that sense a worthwhile trade-off ... the trick seems to be not to mention the subject, not to acknowledge its existence ..."
Cross-dressing is prohibited under Islamic jurisprudence, and is therefore illegal. It is often associated with homosexuality and can be as punishable. News reports tell that the punishment involves vigilante executions, torture, whippings, chemical castrations, fines, imprisonment, capital punishment, and/or deportation. Transsexuals cannot have a sex change operation in the kingdom and are not allowed to change the sex on their legal documents. The only narrow exception to this rule are people who are intersex, but even for them, sex change for intersex people are rarely allowed, they could technically be charged with a death sentence for homosexuality and vigilante execution often will become their ultimate fate for them and other LGBT whose family want to "save face". Some Saudi women will dress up as men, in order to circumvent the restrictions that women face, e.g., the ban on driving or the sex-segregated public establishments., but they are caught and given the same strict punishments.
By law, every Saudi citizen who is infected with HIV or has AIDS is entitled to free medical care, protection of their privacy as to how they got infected and employment opportunities. The government has produced educational material on how the disease is spread and since the 1980s Abdullah al-Hokail, a Saudi doctor who specializes in the pandemic, has been allowed to air public service announcements on television about the disease and how it is spread.
Yet, ignorance, fear and prejudice are often directed at people living with the disease. While the government has designated several hospitals to treat those people infected with AIDS or HIV, other hospitals often refuse to care for such people or fail to treat them in a compassionate and humane manner. Hospitals and schools are often reluctant to distribute government information about the disease because of strong taboos and the stigma attached to how the virus can be spread. For example, condoms are legal, but until recently, they were rarely available anywhere other than certain hospitals or medical supply stores.
While Health Ministers and religious leaders express the need to treat people living with the virus decently, they also note, "When Islam forbids adultery and homosexuality, it does so for the benefit of the human spirit and a person’s welfare and protection”.
In the late 1990s the Saudi government began to slowly step up a public education campaign about AIDS-HIV. It started to recognize World AIDS Day, and the Arabic and English daily newspapers were permitted to run articles and opinions that expressed the need for more education about the disease and more compassion for those people infected. The number of people living in the kingdom who were infected was a closely guarded secret, as the official policy was often that the disease was not a serious problem in a kingdom because Saudis followed the principles of traditional Islamic morality.
In 2003 the government announced that it knew of 6,787 cases, and in 2004 the official number rose to 7,808. The government statistics claim that most of the registered cases are foreign males who contracted the disease through "forbidden" sexual relations.
In June 2006, the Ministry of Health publicly admitted that more than 10,000 Saudi citizens were either infected with HIV or had AIDS.
It was this same year that a Saudi citizen named Rami al-Harithi revealed that he had become infected with HIV while having surgery and has become an official proponent of education and showing compassion to those people infected.
Saudi Princess Alia bint Abdullah has been involved in the Saudi AIDS Society, which was permitted in December 2006 to hold a public charity art auction followed by a discussion on how the disease was impacting the kingdom that included two Saudis living with HIV. The event was organized with the help of the Saudi National Program for Combating AIDS which is chaired by Dr. Sana Filimban.
In January 2007 a Saudi economics professor at King Abdul Aziz University was permitted to conduct of survey of a handful of Saudi University students on their level of education about the pandemic.
While much of the work on AIDS-HIV education has been supported by members of the Saudi royal family or medical doctors, there is an attempt to gain permission to create some independent AIDS societies, one of which is called Al-Husna Society, that would work on helping people infected with the disease find employment, education families and work to fight the prejudice that faces people infected.
In 2007, a government-funded organization, the National Society for Human Rights, published a document suggesting ways to improve the treatment of people living with the disease. The proposed "Bill of Rights" document was criticized by Human Rights Watch for allegedly undermining human rights and global efforts to fight the pandemic.
Foreigners and HIV/AIDS
Foreigners are required to demonstrate that they are not infected with the virus before they can enter the country, and are required to get a test to renew the residency permit. Any foreigner that is discovered to be infected will be deported to the country of origin as soon as they are deemed fit to travel. Foreigners are not given access to any AIDS medications and while awaiting deportation may be segregated (imprisoned) from the rest of society.
Summary of rights
|Same-sex sexual activity legal||(Penalty: Prison sentences of several months to life, fines and/or whipping/flogging, castration, torture, vigilante execution, or death can be sentenced on first conviction. A second conviction merits execution.)|
|Equal age of consent||N/A, since it is illegal and there isn't an age of consent|
|Anti-discrimination laws in employment||Discrimination is encouraged, enforced and heavily applied to the LGBT community.|
|Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services||Discrimination is encouraged, enforced and heavily applied to the LGBT community.|
|Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech)||Discrimination is encouraged, enforced and heavily applied to the LGBT community.|
|Recognition of same-sex couples|
|Step-child adoption by same-sex couples|
|Joint adoption by same-sex couples|
|Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military|
|Right to change legal gender|
|Access to IVF for lesbians|
|Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples|
- Homosexuality and Islam
- Human rights in Saudi Arabia
- LGBT rights by country or territory
- LGBT in the Middle East
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Egypt, where there is no law against same-sex acts and yet people are prosecuted and persecuted; ... Saudi Arabia, where in theory the death penalty applies but gay men cruise and party undeterred.
- Bradley, John R. (2005). Saudi Arabia Exposed : Inside a Kingdom in Crisis. Palgrave. p. 155.
- Bradley, John R. (2005). Saudi Arabia Exposed : Inside a Kingdom in Crisis. Palgrave. p. 158.
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`It’s a lot easier to be gay than straight here,` he had said. `If you go out with a girl, people will start to ask her questions. But if I have a date upstairs and my family is downstairs, they won’t even come up.` ...This legal and public condemnation notwithstanding, the kingdom leaves considerable space for homosexual behavior. As long as gays and lesbians maintain a public front of obeisance to Wahhabist norms, they are left to do what they want in private.
- Bradley, John R. (2005). Saudi Arabia Exposed : Inside a Kingdom in Crisis. Palgrave. p. 157.
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- Bradley, John R. (2005). Saudi Arabia Exposed : Inside a Kingdom in Crisis. Palgrave. p. 154.
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