(This page is revised — again and again — as new information is received. Latest update: April 19, 2017)
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 76-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, but Nigerian media rarely follow up with reports about any subsequent trials).
- India (almost 1,500 people were arrested in 2015 under India’s colonial-era anti-gay law, but it was unclear how many of those arrests were actually for sexual assault rather than for consensual same-sex relations.)
- Tunisia (Ongoing arrests and trials of Tunisian citizens on homosexuality charges have been strongly criticized by local LGBTI rights groups.)
Cameroonian law provides for sentences of up to five years for homosexual activity.
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.
Egyptian police typically arrest LGBT people on charges of “sexual immorality” or “debauchery,” which Egyptian courts have ruled includes consensual homosexual activity.
One of the world’s biggest jailers of gay men
Leaders of the underground LGBTI community in Egypt say that their country has become one of the world’s biggest jailers of gay men, with as many as 500 behind bars on “morals” charges. The New York Times estimates that “at least 250 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been arrested in a quiet crackdown” since 2013. The the advocacy group Solidarity with Egypt LGBTQ+ has published a tally of 274 victims of anti-gay trials and hate crimes that made the news. These some of those arrests are listed below:
14 unidentified men arrested in gym/sauna
On Oct. 11, 2013, 14 men were arrested for allegedly engaging in gay sex at a gym/sauna in the El-Marg district in northeastern Cairo. No report of their release has been received, so they are included here as still in prison.
4 men sent to prison for 3 to 8 years for ‘deviant parties’
A court sentenced four men to up to eight years in prison on April 7, 2014, for practicing homosexuality, a judicial official said. Prosecutors had accused the men of holding “deviant parties” and dressing in women’s clothes. Three were sentenced to eight years and the fourth to three years in prison.
3 to 9 years in prison after police raid a party
Ten people were arrested in November 2013 at party in a residential area of the western Cairo suburb known as 6 October City. One male defendant was sentenced to nine years in prison; other male defendants, to three years. One woman was acquitted.
Under a colonial-era law from 1861, intercourse between two people “against the order of nature” is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. India’s High Court ruled against enforcement of that law in 2009, but the Supreme Court reinstated it in December 2013.
Almost 1,500 people were arrested in 2015 under Section 377, India’s colonial-era anti-gay law, but it was unclear how many of those arrested, if any, were involved in consensual same-sex relations. In 2014, a total of 587 people were arrested under Section 377.
Iranian law provides for the death penalty in some cases of consensual same-sex relations both for men and women. Overall, Iran imposes the death penalty more often than any other country except China, but it is unclear how often — or if — it is applied for consensual homosexual activity.
24 reported arrested and detained
Arrests were made Oct. 8, 2013. The 25 people arrested were reportedly blindfolded and taken to an unknown location. Within a few days they were freed on bail to await trial.
Revolutionary guards in Iran’s Kermanshah province made at least 24 arrests (“dozens”) at a birthday party. They claimed that the arrests resulted from a lengthy investigation into a “a network of homosexuals and devil-worshippers.” In an update several weeks after the arrests, activist analyst Scott Long noted that “these cases can drag on for years without a hearing.” He added, “My guess is that a lot of [the people arrested] have gone into hiding (i.e. moved to other cities) or, since Kermanshah is near the border, crossed into Iraq — or even to Turkey to claim refugee status.”
Under Malawian law, homosexual activity is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
3 men serving prison terms of 10 to 14 years
LGBTQI advocates fault police actions
Amon Champyuni, Mathews Bello and Musa Chiwisi were convicted and sentenced in 2011 for violating Malawi’s anti-sodomy law. They are now serving sentences ranging from 10 to 14 years. The country’s High Court is reviewing the constitutionality of the anti-sodomy law, and Malawi’s justice minister has responded by instructing police to stop making arrests for alleged violations of it.
Under Malaysian law, a prison sentence of up to 20 years is provided for “intercourse against the order of nature,” including homosexual activity.
Opposition politician stymied by prison sentence for sodomy
A Malaysian court in March 2014 sentenced opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to five years in prison on sodomy charges, overturning an earlier acquittal and ending his hopes of contesting a local election. He was offered asylum abroad, but declined.
Under Moroccan law, a prison sentence of up to three years is provided for homosexual activity.
Most homosexuality-related trials in Morocco are not publicized. According to an Associated Press account, the Ministry of Justice reported that 81 such trials occurred in 2011. The Moroccan LGBT activist group Kifkif says that more than 5,000 homosexuals have been put on trial since the country’s independence in 1956. That’s an average of about 86 per year. This blog has not been able to verify those figures.
The LGBT support group Aswat said that it tallied 19 prosecutions on homosexuality charges during the first three months of 2016.
Nigerian law provides for sentences of up to 14 years for homosexual activity. In parts of northern Nigeria where sharia law applies, the death penalty can be applied for same-sex intercourse between males. A 2014 law provides for prison sentences of 14 years for getting married to a member of the same sex and 10 years for belonging to a gay organization, supporting same-sex marriages, or making a public display of same-sex affection.
Compiling a comprehensive list of people incarcerated for violations of anti-gay laws in Nigeria is currently impossible. Nigerian newspapers typically report arrests and sometimes the opening of trials of LGBT people, but not the outcome of those events.
Arrests linked to the “Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Law”
A wave of dozens of arrests were reported during an anti-gay frenzy related to the enactment of the so-called Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Law in early January 2014. That sweeping law provides for 10-year prison sentences for public displays of same-sex affection, belonging to a gay organization, or supporting same-sex marriages. About 32 were reported arrested in southern Nigeria — the Christian section of the country. No further information or updates were available. For purposes of this list, half of them are assumed to have been freed without further legal constraints; of the other half, six are assumed to be in prison awaiting trial and 10 freed on bail awaiting trial.
Among the reported cases:
- Nigerian’s choice: Prison for gay sex or pay blackmail? (November 2016)
- Nigeria: Feminine man provokes police raid (August 2016)
- Nigeria: Six suspects in court on homosexuality charges (May 2016)
- Arrest reports in Nigeria: 21 in Delta, 2 in Lagos (November 2015)
> SAUDI ARABIA
Under sharia law, the death penalty can be imposed for homosexual activity in Saudi Arabia.
News of arrests for homosexuality is rarely reported in Saudi Arabia, but the practice is reportedly common. In one year recently, religious police reportedly arrested and convicted a total of 260 people on homosexuality-related charges, including charges of cross-dressing, wearing make-up and seeking homosexual encounters.
35 arrested at party
Police and security officers of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice arrested 35 people on April 4, 2014, at a party near Jeddah that was allegedly for homosexuals. No further word of the arrestees has been received. For this list, with some basis in previous incidents, it is presumed that 20 of them remain in prison and 15 were foreigners who were soon deported.
Twitter user sentenced to 3 years
Prison and whipping for seeking men online
In July 2014, a 24-year-old man was sentenced to three years in prison and 450 lashes by a court in Saudi Arabia for using his Twitter account to meet with gay men.
Under Senegalese law, a prison sentence of one to five years is provided for homosexual activity.
Journalist’s partner imprisoned for gay sex
The more famous of the pair was released
Matar Diop Diagne, the partner of noted journalist Tamsir Jupiter Ndiaye, was convicted of committing “acts against nature” and sentenced to a three-year prison sentence without parole in October 2012. Ndiaye received a four-year prison sentence for gay sex and assault on Diagne, but was released after 14 months. Diagne remained in prison, while Senegalese journalists wondered why he had been forgotten and speculated that he would be released before long.
Under Article 230 of the Tunisian penal code, same-sex intimacy is punishable by up to three years in prison. In addition, people convicted of intentionally and publicly promoting “indecency” can be imprisoned for six months and fined 48 dinars (about US $30).
Among the recent incidents in Tunisia:
In December 2016, two men, ages 20 and 21, were each sentenced to 8 months in prison for homosexuality, despite undergoing abusive anal tests that came out negative.
In January 2017, a 19-year-old and a 25-year-old were sentenced to two months in prison for “feminine behavior.”
In March 2017, a 21-year-old student and a 38-year-old filmmaker were jailed while awaiting their trial on homosexuality charges.
In April 2017, a gay couple was arrested on homosexuality charges on the basis of private messages that the men exchanged on Facebook.
Ugandan law provides for up to a life sentence for same-sex intercourse. (The new Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014, before it was overturned, also provided for a life sentence for anyone who “touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.” That law also provided for sentences of five to seven years for “promoting homosexuality” and for any action that “in any way abets homosexuality and related practices.”)
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Here are some ways to give a boost to the struggle to release these prisoners and to repeal all anti-homosexuality laws:
- Support Amnesty International, which campaigns for some LGBT prisoners, most recently Jean-Claude Roger Mbede in Cameroon and Philip Mubiana and James Mwape in Zambia.
- Donate to the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which seeks the repeal of anti-homosexuality laws currently on the books in 76-plus countries.
- Sign online petitions for the release of LGBTI prisoners at allout.org.
OTHER INJUSTICES FACING LGBTI PEOPLE
Of necessity, the lists above omit many types of injustices that confront LGBTI people worldwide. Here are a few of the omissions:
The lists above do not include people who were executed in one of the seven countries where homosexual activity is a capital crime. (In Iran, three people were executed in 2011 for homosexual activities, according to Amnesty International.)
The lists do not include the dozens of gay men who reportedly have been killed by death squads in Iraq without any government interference and sometimes with help from police.
The lists do not include the many people who die of AIDS each year in countries where LGBTI people are excluded from HIV prevention programs. Nor do they include the countless heterosexual women who die of AIDS after contracting HIV from their closeted gay or bisexual husband in countries where homosexuals are stigmatized.
The lists do not include lesbians and gays, such as Tyler Clementi of Rutgers University in the United States, who commit suicide because of the scorn they suffer or the unwarranted shame they feel because of who they are.
The lists do not include people killed by bigots because they are gay, such as Matthew Shepard in the United States in 1998, and an alleged 249 people in Peru during 2006-2010.
They do not include people killed because they are working for gay rights, such as Daniel Zamudio in Chile and Thapelo Makutle in South Africa in 2012 and perhaps David Kato in Uganda in 2011.
They also do not include lesbian and bisexual women who suffer “corrective rapes” or sexual assaults because of their sexual orientation.