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Capital punishment for homosexuality

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  Law explicitly provides for death penalty for sex between consenting adults of the same sex
  Law is unclear if death penalty is a legally possible punishment for same-sex acts, although such acts are criminalized[1][a]

Capital punishment as a criminal punishment for homosexuality has been implemented by a number of countries in their history. It is a legal punishment in several countries and regions, all of which have sharia-based criminal laws, except for Uganda.

Gay people also face extrajudicial killings by state and non-state actors in some states and regions of the world. Locations where this is known to occur include Iraq, Libya, Syria and the Chechnya region of Russia. Imposition of the death penalty for homosexuality may be classified as judicial murder of gay people.

In current state laws

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) reported in 2020 that in at least six UN member states—Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria (some states in northern Nigeria), Saudi Arabia, and Yemen—homosexual activity is punishable by death.[1] These six were joined in 2023 by Uganda, which became the only Christian-majority country with capital punishment for some consensual same-sex acts.[2] Excepting Uganda, all countries currently having capital punishment as a potential penalty for homosexual activity base those laws on interpretations of Islamic teachings.[3][4]: 25, 31  One source states that in 2007 alone, five countries had carried out executions for homosexuality.[5] In 2020, the ILGA stated that Iran and Saudi Arabia were the only countries in which government-sanctioned executions for consensual same-sex sexual activity had taken place since 2000.[4]: 38, 49, 74 

For the countries listed below, no dispute or uncertainty regarding the legal status of capital punishment as a possible penalty for same-sex sexual conduct exists. While clearly allowable, the application or enforcement of the legally-sanctioned death penalty varies across the jurisdictions, with some not having imposed or enacted the penalty for many years or decades, and some never having done so, while others have carried out executions recently and some do so regularly.[1]

As of March 2023, the following jurisdictions allow the death penalty to be imposed for homosexual conduct:

  • Brunei Brunei. The Syariah Penal Code Order (Brunei: Syariah, lit.'sharia'), prescribes death by stoning for sex acts between men (in abeyance under a moratorium, which may be lifted without warning at any time),[6][7][8][9] De facto penalty: Seven years in prison and 30 lashes for married men.
  • Iran Iran.[10] Male-male anal intercourse is declared a capital offense in Iran's Islamic Penal Code, enacted in 1991. Articles 233 through 241 criminalise both female and male same-sex activity; for a first offence, the death penalty only applies to some cases of male-male penile-anal intercourse, with female-female activity and other cases of male-male activity being punished by flogging instead of execution. Under the combination of articles 136 and 238, a woman convicted for the fourth time of the crime of musaheqeh (tribadism) is to be executed; there is no death penalty for non-genital-genital female-female sexual conduct.[11] Though the grounds for execution in Iran are difficult to track, there is evidence that several gay men were executed in 2005–2006 and 2016 mostly on alleged charges of rape.[12][13]
  • Mauritania Mauritania.[10] According to a 1984 law, Muslim men can be stoned for engaging in homosexual sex, though no executions have occurred so far.[14] The country has observed a moratorium on the execution of the death penalty since 1987.[15]: 347 
  • Nigeria Nigeria. Several northern states have adopted sharia-based criminal laws, though no executions are known.[15]: 359 
  • Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia. The kingdom does not have codified criminal laws.[10] According to the country's interpretation of sharia, a married man who commits sodomy, or a non-Muslim who engages in sodomy with a Muslim, can be stoned to death.[14] There are unconfirmed reports that two cross-dressing Pakistani nationals were killed by Saudi authorities in 2017, which Saudi officials have denied.[10] Verified executions occurred in 2019.[16][17] Homosexuality in Saudi Arabia is proven by four eyewitnesses who have seen the penetration, or a self confession; if these conditions are not met they can not be stoned but can be given discretionary punishments like lashing and imprisonment.[18]
  • Uganda Uganda. In May 2023, the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023 was signed into law, prescribing the death penalty for certain acts of "aggravated homosexuality". These are defined as: those who have homosexual sex with minors, with persons aged over 75 years, persons with disabilities, without or unable to consent, or with a person who is mentally ill. Anyone convicted of homosexuality more than once, or having infected others with a serious infectious disease such as HIV/AIDS, are also liable to be convicted as perpetrators of "aggravated homosexuality".[19]
  • Yemen Yemen. Punishment for homosexuality in Yemen can originate from the codified penal code, or from people seeking to enforce traditional Islamic morality. Article 264 of the national penal code prohibits private consensual homosexual acts between adult men. The stipulated punishment in the law for unmarried men is 100 lashes and up to a year in prison. The law stipulates that married men convicted of homosexuality are to be put to death by stoning.[20] Article 268 of the national penal code prohibits private consensual homosexual acts between adult women. The law stipulates that premeditated acts of lesbianism are punished with up to three years in prison.[20] In addition to the penal code, punishment for homosexuality can originate from people seeking to enforce traditional morality within their own family or for the broader society. In vigilante cases such as this, the punishment for homosexuality is oftentimes death.[21]

Legality unclear

According to the ILGA, there are five UN-member countries where the status of the death penalty as a punishment for same-sex sexual conduct is uncertain. This may be because experts or legal scholars dispute the effect of legal provisions, or because the laws relied upon to potentially sanction the death penalty are the zina provisions which relate to all sexual behaviours outside marriage, with applicability to homosexual relations uncertain, and so far, only theoretical.[4]: 25 

As of 2020, these jurisdictions are:

  • Afghanistan Afghanistan. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan enacted a Penal Code in February 2018 explicitly criminalising same-sex sexual conduct, stipulating prison sentences as the punishment.[22] While the ILGA noted that a "high-profile Islamic scholar" has claimed there was a "broad consensus amongst scholars that execution was the appropriate punishment if homosexual acts could be proven", this could only be achieved, in theory, under zina provisions, applicable to all sexual contact outside marriage.[15]: 429  The sharia category of zina (illicit sexual intercourse) according to some traditional Islamic legal schools may entail the hadd (sharia-prescribed) punishment of stoning, when strict evidential requirements are met. The Hanafi school, prevalent in Afghanistan, does not regard homosexual acts as a hadd crime, although Afghan judges may have potentially applied the death penalty for a number of reasons. No known death sentences for homosexuality occurred after the end of Taliban rule in 2001.[23][24] However, following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, fears of reprisal including death for those suspected of homosexuality were renewed.[25] A Taliban spokesman told Reuters in 2021: "LGBT ... That's against our Sharia law".[26] A Taliban judge said that "For homosexuals, there can only be two punishments: either stoning, or he must stand behind a wall that will fall down on him".[27][28]
  • Pakistan Pakistan. Hudood punishments for homosexuality include execution. However, the Hudood Ordinances have not been enforced "since the 1985 lifting of martial law", according to the U.S. State Department, and there are no known cases of Hudood being applied to same-sex sexual conduct. No known executions for homosexual activity have ever occurred in Pakistan.[4][29]
  • Qatar Qatar. Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the Penal Code 2004, which criminalises acts of "sodomy" and "sexual intercourse" between people of the same sex. These provisions carry a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment. Both men and women are criminalised under this law. The death penalty may be applicable to Muslims, for certain types of extramarital sex regardless of the gender of the participants. However, there is no evidence that the death penalty has been applied for consensual same-sex relations in private taking place between adults.[23]
  • Somalia Somalia. Insurgents and Somali officials have imposed sharia-based law in several southern states. In territories controlled by al-Shabaab homosexuality is punishable by death.[10][14]
  • United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates. Same-sex sexual acts and expressions of sexual- and gender-identity are dealt with under the Federal Penal Code Articles 356 ("Voluntary debasement") and 358–359 ("Flagrant indecent acts"), prescribing prison sentences of between one and 15 years.[b] On occasion, Sharia courts have gone beyond codified laws and imposed sentences of stoning or flogging for zina crimes, thus theoretically making same-sex sexual activity liable to the death penalty, as occurring outside marriage. All cases of these rare sentences have involved heterosexual activity; all have, so far, been overturned.[15][4] While adherence of the country's legal system to sharia allows for capital punishment for same-sex sexual activity— as with other sex acts by married persons outside marriage under zina provisions —there are no known instances of imposition of the death penalty as of 2020, according to the British non-profit, Human Dignity Trust,[c][30] Amnesty International, the ILGA, and the U.S. Department of State.[31][4][32][33]

Extrajudicial executions

In some regions, gay people have been murdered by Islamist militias and terrorist groups, such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in parts of Iraq, Libya, and Syria, the Houthi movement in Yemen, Hamas in the Gaza Strip as well as in Malaysia.[10][34][35]

Persecution by Islamic State


Anti-gay purges in Chechnya , a predominantly Muslim region of Russia, have included forced disappearances—secret abductions, imprisonment, and torture—by local Chechen authorities targeting persons based on their perceived sexual orientation.[36] Of one hundred men, whom authorities detained on suspicion of being gay or bisexual, three have reportedly died after being held in what human rights groups and eyewitnesses have called concentration camps.[37][38]


Extrajudicial killings have occurred in Iraq.[39] Cases include abductions, torture, rape and murder by vigilante mobs, militia and other perpetrators. LGBT people living in fear of their lives, campaigners Human Rights Watch (HRW) and IraQueer found. HRW's LGBT rights researcher Rasha Younes said: "LGBT Iraqis live in constant fear of being hunted down and killed by armed groups with impunity, as well as arrest and violence by Iraqi police, making their lives unliveable."[40]


In Malaysia, extrajudicial murders of LGBT people have also occurred.[41][42][43] There are no Malaysian laws that protect the LGBT persons from discrimination and hate crimes.[43]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Reports of killings by mobs and vigilantes, family violence, and other abuse from the community towards LGBT persons[44][45][46][47] have been reported in regions of Africa heavily influenced by conservative Christianity and Islam. Such incidents have occurred in: Algeria,[48] Uganda,[49] South Africa,[50] Kenya,[51] Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon, and Senegal. In some locations, police may be unlikely to intervene in incidents or take action on reported abuse;[45][52] they are at times complicit in the anti-gay violence.[53]


Stories about killings of LGBT people in Palestine are frequently exaggerated, over simplified, or misattributions of stories that actually occurred elsewhere.[54] Two members of Palestinian nationalist militant groups have been accused of espionage and killed by their comrades in situations that included rumours about homosexuality or bisexuality.[55][56][57] There has also been one vigilante killing in the West Bank.

During the Israel–Hamas war, a video described as Hamas executes people by throwing them off a roof of a building! circulated on social media.[54] Some derivatives of the meme claimed the men were executed for being gay.[citation needed] The video, however, was from 2015 and not from Palestine.[54] A July 2015 report from Al Arabiya, included identical images and states that they were originally shared by the so-called Islamic State, and showed the execution of four gay men in Fallujah, Iraq.[54]

Despite widespread rumours, homosexuality is not a capital offence in the Gaza Strip or elsewhere in Palestine.[58][59] The laws against homosexual behavior in Palestine are a relic of the British and Ottoman rule in Palestine, they specify a sentences of a maximum of 10 to 14[58][59] years in prison, and there in no evidence that these British colonial era laws are actually enforced in Gaza.[58] Some interpretations of these laws say that it does not outlaw consensual gay sex between adults at all. Anis. F. Kassim – editor-in-chief of the Palestinian Yearbook of International Law – said that the law in question "could be interpreted as allowing homosexuality."[59]

Mahmoud Ishtiwi and Hamas's Al-Qassam Brigades

In February 2016,[60][61][verification needed] the Al-Qassam Brigades (the militant wing of the Hamas movement) executed Mahmoud Ishtiwi, the commander of Al-Qassam's Zeitoun Battalion.[62] The alleged offences were described evasively, the stated reason was Arabic: تجاوزاته السلوكية والأخلاقية التي أقر بها, lit.'for behavioral and moral violations, to which he confessed',[56] which some western news media interpreted as a euphemism for homosexual activity.[63][64]

Local sources clarified that Shteiwi was convicted of spying for Israel.[65] The Qassam Brigades alleged that Ishtiwi had been executed by firing squad,[66][56] but people who saw his body before burial alleged that he might have died in custody and been shot after death.[67][56]

Lions' Den in Nablus

The Zuhair Relit (Lions' Den militant group) in Nablus in the West Bank executed one of their members for sharing information with the Israeli security services that led to the assassination of several leaders of the group. The young man had been bribed and blackmailed by Shin Bet allegedly using a video of him having sex with a male partner.[68][55][57][69] But it is unclear how this video became public, it may not have been released by the group themselves.[70]

Hate crimes

Extrajudicial killings of perceived homosexuals occur in the Western world, with varying levels of condoning, inaction, or condemnation from the social environments in which they occur. Levels of anti-LGBT crime vary by location; where they have lesser implicit or explicit societal support – from government, influential people or bodies, for example – attacks on LGBT people, including murders, are often classified as hate or bias crimes, rather than extrajudicial killings.[71]

Homophobic crime in Australia

An Australian study, published in 2000 by the Australian Institute of Criminology, found that of the 454 male homicides between 1989 and 1999 in the state of New South Wales, at least 37 were verifiably fuelled by homophobia.[72]



Australian states and territories first passed laws against homosexuality during the colonial era, and nineteenth-century colonial parliaments retained provisions which made homosexual activity a capital offence until 1861.[73] Most jurisdictions removed capital punishment as a sentence for homosexual activity, although in Victoria it remained as such when committed while also inflicting bodily harm or to a person younger than the age of fourteen until 1949.[73] The last person arrested for homosexual sex in Australia was a man in 1984 in Tasmania.[74] The last part of Australia to legalise consensual homosexual sex between adults was Tasmania in 1997. In 2017, same-sex marriage was legalised by the Australian government.[75][76]

Of the seven men in Australian history known to have been executed for sodomy, six cases involved the sexual abuse of minors; only one of the seven cases was for consensual acts between adults.[77] In that sole case, Alexander Browne was hanged at Sydney on 22 December 1828 for sodomy with his shipmate William Lyster on the whaler Royal Sovereign; Lyster was also convicted and sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted before execution.[78] Joseph Fogg was hanged at Hobart on 24 February 1830 for an "unnamed crime", also described in one source as an "abominable crime".[79][80] The exact nature of his crime is unclear; while likely a same-sex sexual offence given the labels applied ('unnamed', 'abominable'), it is uncertain whether it was for an adult consensual act, same-sex rape, or abuse of a minor.[81]

Nazi Germany

During the period of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, homosexual men were persecuted with thousands being imprisoned in concentration camps (and eventually extermination camps) by the Nazi regime. Roughly 5,000–15,000 were sent to the concentration camps, with the death rate being estimated to be as high as 60%. Homosexuals in the camps suffered an unusual degree of cruelty by their captors, including being used as target practice on shooting ranges.[82][83][84]

In a 1937 speech, Himmler argued that SS men who had served sentences for homosexuality should be transferred to a concentration camp and shot when trying to escape. This policy was never implemented, and some SS men were acquitted on homosexuality charges despite evidence against them.[85] A few death sentences against SS men for homosexual acts were pronounced between 1937 and 1940.[86] In a speech on 18 August 1941, Hitler argued that homosexuality should be combatted throughout Nazi organizations and the military. In particular, homosexuality in the Hitler Youth must be punished by death in order to protect youth from being turned into homosexuals, however the Hitler Youth never implemented this policy.[87]

After learning of Hitler's remark, Himmler decided that the SS must be at least as tough on homosexuality and drafted a decree mandating the death penalty to any member of the SS and police found guilty of engaging in a homosexual act. Hitler signed the decree on 15 November 1941 on the condition that there be absolutely no publicity, worried that such a harsh decree might lend fuel to left-wing propaganda that homosexuality was especially prevalent in Germany. Since it could not be published in the SS newspaper, the decree was communicated to SS men one-on-one by their superiors. However, this was not done consistently and many arrested men asserted that they had no knowledge of the decree.[87]

Even after the decree, only a few death sentences were pronounced.[88][89] Himmler often commuted the sentence especially if he thought that the accused was not a committed homosexual, but had suffered a one-time mistake (particularly while drunk). Many of those whose sentence was commuted were sent to serve in the Dirlewanger Brigade, a penal unit on the Eastern Front, where most were killed.[88] After late 1943, because of military losses, it was the policy to recycle SS men convicted of homosexuality into the Wehrmacht.[90]

The 1933 law on habitual criminals also allowed for execution after the third conviction.[91] On 4 September 1941 a new law allowed the execution of dangerous sex offenders or habitual criminals when "the protection of the Volksgemeinschaft or the need for just atonement require it". This law enabled authorities to pronounce death sentences against homosexuals, and is known to have been employed in four cases in Austria.[92][93] In 1943, Wilhelm Keitel, head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, authorized the death penalty for soldiers convicted of homosexuality in "particularly serious cases".[94][95] Only a few executions of homosexual Wehrmacht soldiers are known, mostly in conjunction with other charges, especially desertion.[94] Some homosexuals were executed at Nazi euthanasia centers, such as Bernburg or Meseritz-Obrawalde. It is difficult to estimate the number of homosexuals directly killed during the Nazi era.[96]

United Kingdom

From 1533, under the Buggery Act 1533, capital felony for any person to "commit the detestable and abominable vice of buggery with mankind or beast", was enacted, repealed and re-enacted several times by the Crown, until it was reinstated permanently in 1563. Homosexual activity remained a capital offence until 1861.[97] The last execution took place on 27 November 1835 when James Pratt and John Smith were hanged outside Newgate Prison in London.

United States

During the colonial era of American history, the various European nations which established colonies in the Americas brought their pre-existing laws against homosexuality (which included capital punishment) with them. The establishment of the United States after their victory in the Revolutionary War did not bring about any changes in the status of capital punishment as a sentence for being convicted of homosexual behavior. Beginning in the 19th century, the various state legislatures passed legislation which ended the status of capital punishment being used for those who were convicted of homosexual behavior. South Carolina was the last state, in 1873, to repeal the death penalty for homosexual behaviour from its statute books. The number of times the penalty was carried out is unknown. Records show there were at least two executions, and a number of more convictions with vague labels, such as "crimes against nature".[97]


In July 2020, the sodomy law that previously punished gay men with up to 100 lashes for the first offence, five years in jail for the second and the death penalty the third time around was abolished, with new legislation reducing the penalty to prison terms ranging from five years to life. Sudanese LGBT+ activists hailed the reform as a 'great first step', but said it was not enough yet, and the end goal should be the decriminalisation of same-sex sexual activity altogether.[98]


  1. ^ A separate provision of the penal code, Article 354 of the Federal Penal Code of the United Arab Emirates the death sentence is prescribed for certain sexual acts; it states: "shall be sentenced to the death penalty, whoever used coercion in having sexual intercourse with a female or sodomy with a male." There is no certain legal interpretation of this provision,[14] but, according to Amnesty International it relates solely to rape ("Amnesty International ... considers this article to address rape"),[99] or is at least only applied to sexual violence, according to the ILGA ("... it appears that the law is used in rape cases"), not consensual same-sex sexual activity.[4]
  2. ^ The Human Dignity Trust noted in 2020 that all annual human rights reports from the U.S. Department of State on UAE after 2015 stated no prosecutions for same-sex sexual acts had been reported.


  1. ^ a b c "Legal Frameworks: Criminalisation of consensual same-sex sexual acts", ILGA World Database, International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, Methodology – Section 9. Death Penalty: Issues of legal certainty, retrieved 16 October 2023.

    "... 'full legal certainty' is understood as the absence of disputes about whether the death penalty can be legally imposed for consensual same-sex sexual conduct. This legal certainty may be derived from the existence of written, codified laws unequivocally prescribing the death penalty for same-sex conduct ... Conversely, the lack of clear provisions mandating the death penalty for consensual same-sex sexual acts, the existence of disputes between scholars and experts with regard to the interpretation of ambiguous provisions, and the need for judicial interpretation of certain 'generic' crimes to encompass consensual same-sex sexual acts has led ILGA World to classify the remaining five UN Member States ... as jurisdictions where there is no full legal certainty.

    "It bears mentioning that in all five states ... there is full certainty that the alternative in default of the death penalty is always a provision of law criminalising consensual same-sex sexual acts with corporal punishment, imprisonment and/or a fine. Therefore, this uncertainty does not hinge on 'criminalisation vs non-criminalisation', but rather on the severity of the penalties imposed."

  2. ^
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    "However, it is through the Sharia code that the death penalty theoretically can apply to same-sex sexual relations through the offence of Zina, which applies to sexual relations outside of marriage of any sort. However, it appears that the law is used in rape cases only although in some cases courts have gone beyond codified laws and imposed harsher sentences of stoning and flogging for Zina crimes."

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    "Both civil law and sharia criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Under sharia individuals ... could be subject to the death penalty. Dubai's penal code allows for up to a 10-year prison sentence for conviction of such activity, while Abu Dhabi's penal code allows for up to a 14-year prison sentence. There were no known reports of arrests or prosecutions for consensual same-sex conduct" [in 2021].

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      Without prejudice to the provisions of the Law on juvenile delinquents and displaced, death penalty shall be imposed on whoever used coercion in having sexual intercourse with a female or sodomy with a male.

      — Ministry of Justice, UAE (English version as provided), Official Gazette of UAE, issue 182 (1987)
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      ... some scholars ... interpret ... [this provision] as applicable to consensual same-sex sexual activity, while others hold that 'it takes a stretch to read [it] as a criminalisation of consensual sex with the Arabic word for coercive syntactically placed as it is'.

      — ILGA World, State-Sponsored Homophobia (2020), p. 82
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  • Giles, Geoffrey J. (2010). "The Persecution of Gay Men and Lesbians During the Third Reich". The Routledge History of the Holocaust. Routledge. pp. 385–396. ISBN 978-0-203-83744-3.
  • Longerich, Peter (2011). Heinrich Himmler: A Life. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-161705-8.
  • Lorenz, Gottfried (2018). Todesurteile und Hinrichtungen wegen homosexueller Handlungen während der NS-Zeit: Mann-männliche Internetprostitution. Und andere Texte zur Geschichte und zur Situation der Homosexuellen in Deutschland [Death sentences and executions for homosexual acts during the Nazi era, male-male internet prostitution, and other texts on the history and situation of homosexuals in Germany] (in German). LIT Verlag. ISBN 978-3-643-13992-4.
  • Scheck, Raffael (2020). "The Danger of 'Moral Sabotage': Western Prisoners of War on Trial for Homosexual Relations in Nazi Germany". Journal of the History of Sexuality. 29 (3): 418–446. doi:10.7560/JHS29305.
  • Schlagdenhauffen, Régis (2018). "Queer life in Europe during the Second World War" and "Punishing homosexual men and women under the Third Reich". Queer in Europe during the Second World War. Council of Europe. pp. 7–20, 21–38. ISBN 978-92-871-8464-1. Archived from the original on 17 February 2022.
  • Storkmann, Klaus (2021). Tabu und Toleranz: Der Umgang mit Homosexualität in der Bundeswehr 1955 bis 2000 [Taboo and Tolerance: Homosexuality and the Bundeswehr 1955 to 2000] (in German). De Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-073290-0.