(This page is revised — again and again — as new information is received. Latest update: Dec. 28, 2020)
Worldwide, hundreds of people are in prison or awaiting trial for allegedly violating laws that punish those who are born gay, lesbian or bisexual.
The prison sentences that have been imposed range up to nine years, which is actually toward the lower end of punishments that are on the books in the 70-plus countries where homosexuality is currently illegal.
In the past, this blog tried to keep track of individual cases of LGBTI prisoners and defendants, but the number of cases turned out to be too great to continue. Now, the blog will provide an overview of the most repressive countries and, when possible, will update the list with news of arrests that violate the human rights of LGBTI people.
Finding out about specific cases remains difficult, especially in countries without a free press. Even though this list is depressing, it provides only a narrow window into one of many types of injustice affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, sometimes with fatal results. (See the section “Other injustices facing LGBTI people” below and the separate article “10 nations where the penalty for gay sex is death.”)
At present, the most egregious violators of LGBTI peoples’ human rights include these countries:
- Egypt (“one of the world’s biggest jailers of gay men,” where LGBTI community leaders estimate that as many as 500 LGBTI people have been sent to prison.)
- Saudi Arabia (In one recent year, religious police reportedly arrested and convicted a total of 260 people.)
- Morocco (Dozens of trials for same-sex intimacy are cited by LGBTI rights advocates each year, but are rarely reported in the media.)
- Nigeria (Dozens of arrests have been reported, as well as several mass arrests, but Nigerian media rarely follow up with reports about any subsequent trials).
- Tunisia (Arrests and trials of Tunisian citizens on homosexuality charges occur often, despite being strongly criticized by local and international human rights groups.)
Algerian law provides for prison sentences of two months to two years for homosexual activity.
“In July 2020, 44 people in Constantine province were arrested and
charged for allegedly organising and participating in a ‘same-sex wedding’ between two men. In September 2020 two individuals from the group were sentenced to three years in prison, and two others to one year in prison each, despite the group reportedly claiming that the event was a birthday party, and not a wedding.” (State Sponsored Homophobia, ILGA, December 2020 update)
Burundian law provides for prison sentences of three months to two years for homosexual activity.
“In October 2017, several outlets reported that numerous people had been arrested for ‘engaging in homosexuality’ and forced to pay exorbitant bribes for their release after a ‘hunt’ was announced that month.” (State Sponsored Homophobia, ILGA, December 2020 update)
Cameroonian law provides for sentences of up to five years for homosexual activity.
Not Alone Project
As part of its Not Alone / Pas Seul Project, this blog and its donors assisted three gay prisoners in Yaoundé in 2018, three gay prisoners in northern Cameroon in 2019, and two lesbians and a trans woman imprisoned in eastern Cameroon in 2020. All had been sentenced under the nation’s anti-gay law.
Cornelius Fonya: Seized by a mob that took him to police
9 years in prison. Sentenced Nov. 20, 2013.
Police in the coastal city of Limbe arrested Cornelius Fonya on Oct. 29, 2012, on homosexuality charges after a mob seized him and delivered him to the police station. He pleaded not guilty and was unable to raise the money demanded for bail. In 2013, he was sentenced to nine years in prison for having sexual relations with a 19-year-old youth. The usual maximum in Cameroon for same-sex relations is a five-year sentence, but the penalty is doubled for sex with someone between ages 16 and 21.
5 gay-rights arrests; 6 days in jail and counting
April 2018: Five LGBTI rights advocates in western Cameroon were arrested and held for days at the local police station on suspicion of homosexuality.
Cameroon: Four gay men arrested, beaten in Kekem
June 2020: Police in the western region of Cameroon arrested four men who were beaten until they acknowledged that they were gay. They pleaded guilty and were given light sentences (a month in prison for one man, fines of about $91 for the others).
Feb. 8, 2021: Trans celebrity Shakiro arrested in Douala, Cameroon
Egyptian police typically arrest LGBT people on charges of “sexual immorality” or “debauchery,” which Egyptian courts have ruled includes consensual homosexual activity.