(This page is revised — again and again — as new information is received. Latest update: Dec. 28, 2020)

Egyptian defendants in courtroom cage during trial (Photo courtesy of DT News)
Egyptian defendants in courtroom cage during 2014 trial (Photo courtesy of DT News)

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.)


100s IMPRISONED FOR HOMOSEXUALITY

>ALGERIA

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)

>BURUNDI

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)

>CAMEROON

L'intérieur de la prison centrale. (Photo de Camerpress.com)
LGBT prisoners often were imprisoned at Yaounde Central Prison. Only three gay prisoners remained there as of summer 2018. They were released in September 2018, but by December 2020, a total of 11 LGBT people were serving homosexuality-related sentences in Yaoundé. (Photo courtesy of Camerpress.com)

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

Online celebrity Shakiro and a friend were arrested Feb. 8, 2021, and imprisoned awaiting trial on homosexuality charges. 

 

>EGYPT

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.
Egyptian police forces arrested about 76 LGBT Egyptians in October 2017 in connection with the display of rainbow flags at a concert in New Cairo.Human Rights Watch stated in October 2017: “In Egypt, police routinely round up gay and bisexual men and transgender women, actively seeking them out and entrapping them on dating apps and through social media. One Cairo-based organization has documented the prosecution of at least 34 people for consensual same-sex conduct in the past 12 months.”Police made several more arrests after rainbow flag was hoisted during a concert on Sept. 22, 2017.
In 2016, the advocacy group Solidarity with Egypt LGBTQ+ published a tally of 274 victims of anti-gay trials and hate crimes that made the news. 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.

> GAMBIA

Gambian laws provides for prison sentences of up to 14 years for homosexual activity among men; up to 5 years for women; and life sentences for “serial offenders” and people spreading HIV through gay sex.

“In 2019, media outlets reported that up to 16 Gambians were arrested for “alleged homosexuality”, and while most were released, a small number have faced incarceration into 2020 and alleged torture, before being acquitted. Further, a Senegalese national accused of being gay was arrested in June 2020. Due to the postponement of trial dates and limited reporting on the matter, the outcome of this case is unknown. …” (State Sponsored Homophobia, ILGA, December 2020 update)

> GHANA

Ghanaian law provides for sentences of up to three years for homosexual activity.

“Several arrests of adults for consensual same-sex sexual acts have been documented in recent years. Detentions oftentimes involve psychological abuse, damaging media exposure and medical examinations. Local police are reportedly known to entrap and lure LGBT individuals (predominantly gay men) through social media. In September 2020, local media indicated that 11 lesbian women were arrested in the city of Aflao, in the Volta region, after a video of two of them reportedly engaging in sexual acts became known. (State Sponsored Homophobia, ILGA, December 2020 update)

> INDONESIA

The country as a whole does not have a law against same-sex intimacy, but two large provinces and several cities do. These are the punishments they call for:

  • Aceh Province: 100 lashes, up to eight years in prison.
  • South Sumatra Province: Punishment unspecified.
  • Padang Panjang, West Sumatra: Up to three months.
  • Pariaman, West Sumatra: Punishment unspecified.
  • Tasikmalava, West Java: Punishment unspecified.
  • Banjar District, West Java: Punishment unspecified.

Arrests have included these:

> IRAN

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.

Oct. 9 arrests in Kermanshah, Iran (Photo courtesy of Mehr News Agency)
Oct. 9, 2013, arrests in Kermanshah, Iran (Photo courtesy of Mehr News Agency)

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.”

“There have been reports of executions by hanging for consensual same-sex sexual relations and alleged same-sex rapes. There have been
several confirmed reports of state-led raids on private parties followed by mass arrests of those suspected of homosexuality. In September 2020, 6Rang released a report with testimonies of people who had been arrested by the police because of their diverse sexual orientation or gender identity.” (State Sponsored Homophobia, ILGA, December 2020 update)

>MALAWI

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 supposedly 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. But the three men remained in prison on the basis of the previous convictions while the High Court reviewed their cases.

Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia (Photo via Photobucket.com)
Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia (Photo via Photobucket.com)

> MALAYSIA

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. His conviction was politically motivated, he said.

In 2018, after a new prime minister took office, Anwar was set free. In the fall of 2018, as president of the People’s Justice Party, Anwar said Malaysia’s anti-sodomy laws are unfair, outdated, and need to be reviewed.

> MAURITANIA

Mauritanian law provides for the death penalty for homosexual activity between men, but no one has actually been executed, at least not since the 1980s. For lesbian activity, the law provides a penalty of three mnths to two years in prison.

In January 2020, 10 men were arrested at a suspected “gay wedding” that turned out to be a birthday party. Eight of the men were given a two-year prison sentence that was reduced to six months with a warning that the original sentence would be restored for anyone who “reoffended” within the next five years.

>MOROCCO

Under Moroccan law, a prison sentence of up to three years is provided for homosexual activity.

Dozens of arrests go unreported in Morocco
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.

A report from the Chief Public Prosecutor stated that 170 people faced homosexuality charges in 2018.

> NIGERIA

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (Photo by Ricardo Stuckert via Wikimedia Commons)
Then President Goodluck Jonathan signed Nigeria’s so-called “Jail the Gays Bill” in early January 2014. (Photo by Ricardo Stuckert via Wikimedia Commons)

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, at least in theory. A 2014 national 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.

Police arrested 57 men on homosexuality charges at a birthday party in August 2018.

Police arrested 42 Nigerians on homosexuality changes at an anti-HIV event in July 2017.

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 police often launch raids and make mass arrests at parties where informants have alleged that that homosexuals are present:

> PAKISTAN

Under Pakistani law, a sentence as harsh as life in prison is provided for “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”.

“In August 2020 an arrest warrant was reportedly issued for a trans man who married a cisgender woman, for what authorities viewed as a same-sex wedding. [In] October, a Pakistan-based digital media platform reported that two lesbian women were “arrested by the police after their relatives and friends reported about their relationship and marriage plan.” (State Sponsored Homophobia, ILGA, December 2020 update)

> RUSSIA

Same-sex intimacy is legal in Russia, but the country’s anti-“gay propaganda” law sometimes leads to the arrest of people who publish positive information about homosexuality.

The greatest human rights abuses against LGBT people have occurred in Chechnya, where about 100 allegedly LGBT people were reportedly detained in early 2017 and at least three reportedly were killed.

> 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.

> SENEGAL

Under Senegalese law, a prison sentence of one to five years is provided for homosexual activity.

Ten suspected homosexuals were arrested in September 2020 by religious militia in the holy city of Touba. They were released and escaped to other countries with assistance from local and international LGBTQ rights activists.

Seven men were sentenced to prison after they were arrested at an October 2020 celebration that police claimed was a gay wedding. Two of them were sentenced to three months; five men got six-month sentences.

> SIERRA LEONE

Under an 1861 British colonial law that is still in effect in Sierra Leone, a prison sentence of 10 years to life is provided for homosexual activity.

“In 2019, two men were reported to the police by their family members in Sierra Leone, after being caught having sex in their house. The couple was able to escape and managed to leave the country before they were arrested. As of November 2020, their location is uncertain.” (State Sponsored Homophobia, ILGA, December 2020 update)

> SRI LANKA

Homosexual activity in Sri Lanka is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

“In 2020, there have been several reports of arrests and prosecutions
pursuant to Articles 365 and 365A of the Penal Code, with forced anal
examinations reportedly used in the gathering of evidence of
homosexuality.” (State Sponsored Homophobia, ILGA, December 2020 update)

> TANZANIA

Under Tanzanian law, at least on paper, same-sex intimacy between men is punishable by prison sentences of 30 years to life.

The Tanzanian government began an anti-homosexuality campaign in 2016, including arrests of people seeking to fight HIV/AIDS in the LGBT community. Dozens of men suspected of being gay have been arrested and taken hospital for anal exams that allegedly confirm their homosexuality.

In July 2016 sexual lubricants were banned by the government on the theory that they encourage homosexuality.

In September 2017, eight men and 12 women were arrested in a hotel in Zanzibar, where they were attending an HIV/AIDS training session.

In October 2017, police in Dar es Salaam arrested 12 men on homosexuality charges, accusing them of “promoting homosexuality.” In fact, they were lawyers and activists preparing for a lawsuit seeking to reopen HIV clinics that the government had shut down.

> TOGO

The laws of Togo provide for prison sentences of one to three years for homosexual activity.

“In recent years, several arrests have been documented, with reports
including instances of police harassment, blackmail and arbitrary
detention.” (State Sponsored Homophobia, ILGA, December 2020 update)

> TUNISIA

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:

Two men were sentenced to two years in prison for sodomy in June 2020.

Similarly:

> TURKMENISTAN

Under Turkmen law, “sexual intercourse between men” is punishable by up to five years in prison.

A Turkmen entertainer identified as “G.S.” was sentenced in May 2020 to serve two years in prison for homosexual activity. An unspecified number of co-defendents were sentenced at the same time but no further information about them was available.

> UGANDA

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.”)

Despite that law, arrests for homosexuality are rare in Uganda. Other forms of homophobic harassment are common.

In the spring of 2020, police arrested 23 people on charges of violating Covid-19 lock-down rules by staying at a homeless shelter for LGBT Ugandans. A total of 19 of them were held in prison for 50 days without access to an attorney or a chance to apply for bail.

> YEMEN

Yemeni law variously provides for “whipping of 100 strokes” for homosexual intercourse by unmarried people, or up to a year in prison; death by stoning if married; and up to three years in prison for lesbian sex.

“In October 2020, a newspaper reported that a man had been punished
with 100 lashes in a public square after the Specialised First Instance Criminal Court of Sana’a (a court reportedly run by Houthi militia), found him guilty of practicing sodomy with another man (who was himself sentenced to death for other crimes). (State Sponsored Homophobia, ILGA, December 2020 update)

> ZAMBIA

Zambian law provides for up to 14 years in prison for homosexual activity (“acts against the order of nature”).

A gay couple was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2018 for “acts against the order of nature”. The sentence was affirmed on appeal in 2019. Along with about 3,000 other convicts, they were pardoned in May 2020 as part of Zambia’s Africa Day celebrations.

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:

Readers, please suggest other steps to take.

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.

Matthew Shepard, who was killed in 1998, apparently because he was gay. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Matthew Shepard, who was killed in 1998, apparently because he was gay. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

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.

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