Middle East / North Africa

LGBTI rights activism: Mostly hidden in Middle East, N. Africa

Northern Africa and the Middle East (Map courtesy of LaHistoriaConMapas.com)

Northern Africa and the Middle East (Map courtesy of LaHistoriaConMapas.com)

Public recognition of the human rights of LGBTI people remains rare in the many Middle Eastern and North African countries that still have laws against same-sex intimacy.

In most of those countries, even advocacy of those rights is unusual. Such advocacy is mostly underground, online or abroad for Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Morocco, Syria and Yemen. LGBTI rights advocacy is most open in Lebanon and Tunisia.

LGBTI rights in the region’s 16 countries are the focus of the following excerpts  from the 2015 edition of the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The complete reports cover a variety of human-rights issues beyond those excerpted here, including workers’ rights; discrimination against women, children, minorities, indigenous people and others; torture; and civil liberties.

They’re all written from the perspective of the United States, although the U.S. is far from blameless with regard to human rights. Among many current examples, at least 14 U.S. states keep unenforceable anti-gay laws on the books;  the United Kingdom has just issued a travel advisory warning about the discriminatory new laws imposed in North Carolina and Mississippi; and the U.S. still struggles to end its historic mistreatment of indigenous people and of racial, ethnic and other minorities.

This blog is reprinting LGBTI-focused excerpts about human rights in:

 

Excerpts from the recently published U.S. State Department reports from 2015 begin here:

Algeria

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on birth, race, gender, language, beliefs, or “any other condition or social circumstance.” The government generally enforced the law, although women and members of the LGBTI community continued to face legal and social discrimination.The law criminalizes public and consensual same-sex sexual relations by men or women with penalties that include imprisonment of six months to three years and a fine of DZD 1,000 to DZD 10,000 ($9.50 to $95). The law also stipulates penalties that include imprisonment of two months to two years and fines of DZD 500 to DZD 2,000 ($4.76 to $19) for anyone convicted of having committed a “homosexual act.” If a minor is involved, the adult may face up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of DZD 10,000 ($95).

LGBTI activists reported that the vague wording of laws identifying “homosexual acts” and “acts against nature” permitted sweeping accusations that resulted during the year in multiple arrests for same-sex sexual relations but no known prosecutions.

Mohamed Aissa, Algeria's minister of religious affairs: Combatting homosexuality is more important than combatting ISIS. (Photo courtesy of Kabylie-News.com)

Mohamed Aissa, Algeria’s minister of religious affairs: Combating homosexuality is more important than combating ISIS. (Photo courtesy of Kabylie-News.com)

LGBTI persons faced strong societal and religious discrimination. While some lived openly, the vast majority did not, and most feared reprisal from their families or harassment from authorities. One activist reported that of the 100 LGBTI persons he knew, only three had “come out.” During a May radio interview, Minister of Religious Affairs Mohamed Aissa said that combatting individuals who promote the deviation of morality and the dismantling of the family (a reference to the behavior of LGBTI individuals) was more important than the fight against Da’esh [the Islamic State, or ISIS or ISIL]. In April popular Imam Sheikh Chemseddine openly called for the mistreatment and beating of LGBTI persons during his regular television program.

Activists said that the government did not actively condemn LGBTI behavior, but that was complicit in the hate speech propagated by conservative, cultural, and religion-based organizations, some of which associated LGBTI individuals with pedophiles and encouraged excluding them from family and society. Arabic-language media outlets, such as Ennahar TV and Echourouk TV, aired programs that demonized LGBTI persons. One documentary, entitled The Plot, asserted that a gay activist collaborated with the French, maintained ties to the Barakat movement (a political movement that opposed President Bouteflika’s campaign for a fourth term in office), and liaised with terrorist organizations. On November 23, the president of the ARAV [Algerian Audiovisual Regulation Authority], Miloud Chorfi, summoned the director of the private television channel Beur TV following its November 16 broadcast of a program on LGBTI behavior. Chorfi said that the content of the program was “an attack against decency” and warned that the government would take legal action if the television station did not “respect the ethics and morals of our society.”

Due to the hacking of one LGBTI organization’s website and increased offensive and derogatory media coverage specifically denouncing LGBTI practices, activists reported the need to focus their advocacy on personal safety and minimized their activities during the year. Activists reported that members of the LGBTI community declined, and thus lessened their capacity to report cases of homophobic abuse and rape due to fear of reprisal by authorities. Reporting that access to health services could be difficult because medical personnel often treated LGBTI patients unprofessionally, activists noted that some organizations maintained a list of “LGBTI-friendly” hospitals and several NGOs operated mobile clinics specifically for vulnerable communities.

Employers refused jobs to LGBTI persons, particularly men perceived as effeminate. Activists also reported cases of individuals denied drivers licenses due to their perceived sexual orientation. Community members said that obtaining legal assistance was also a challenge due to similar discrimination. Members of the LGBTI community reported that forced marriage was a problem, particularly for lesbians.

Abu Nawas and Alouen, Algiers-based and Oran-based LGBTI advocacy groups, respectively, continued cyberactivism on behalf of the LGBTI community.

Egypt

[Editor’s note: This description of LGBTI issues in Egypt severely downplays the ongoing crackdown against LGBTI Egyptians along with many other members of Egyptian society.]

The constitution states that all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” Many aspects of the law discriminate against women and religious minorities, and the government did not effectively enforce prohibitions against such discrimination.

While the law does not explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity [Editor’s note: Egypt expert/activist Scott Long disagrees; see How ‘debauchery’ law set up Egypt’s gay crackdown.”], it allows police to arrest LGBTI persons on charges such as “debauchery,” “prostitution,” and “violating the teachings of religion,” and provides for prison sentences of up to 10 years. Reports of such arrests remained numerous during the year. Authorities did not use antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTI individuals.

Gay men, lesbians, and transgender persons faced significant social stigma and discrimination, impeding their ability to organize or publicly advocate on behalf of LGBTI persons. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.

There were few reported incidents of violence against LGBTI individuals, although intimidation and the risk of arrest greatly restricted open reporting and contributed to self-censorship. Rights groups reported harassment by police, including being forced to pay bribes or to provide information about other LGBTI individuals to avoid arrest. On April 14, an appeals court affirmed the government’s authority to deport or bar entry to foreigners who were gay.

There were reports that authorities used social media, dating websites, and cell phone apps to entrap persons they suspected of being gay or transgender. For example, in February the media reported the arrest of seven transsexual individuals on debauchery charges after police using fake identities located them using fake identities through social media, arranged a meeting, and then arrested them. In March authorities charged the individuals in misdemeanor court with commercial sex trafficking and debauchery.

On January 12, a misdemeanor court acquitted all 26 men referred to trial in 2014 on charges of “practicing debauchery” and “indecent public acts” after police raided a traditional bathhouse known as a hammam in Cairo and arrested the men. Authorities reportedly subjected 21 of the individuals to forced anal examinations.

Iran

Iran's Revolutionary Guards arrested dozens of "homosexuals and devil-worshippers" in October 2013. (Photo courtesy of Mehr News Agency)

A reported 17 alleged homosexuals were arrested in October 2013 in Kermanshah, Iran. (Photo courtesy of Mehr News Agency)The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, and social status “in conformity with Islamic criteria,” but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions, and many discriminatory provisions are built into the law.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which is punishable by death, flogging, or a lesser punishment. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Security forces harassed, arrested, and detained individuals they suspected of being gay or transgender. In some cases security forces raided houses and monitored internet sites for information on LGBTI persons. Those accused of sodomy often faced summary trials, and evidentiary standards were not always met. Punishment for same-sex sexual activity between men was more severe than for such conduct between women.

The government censored all materials related to LGBTI problems. There were active, unregistered LGBTI NGOs in the country, but most activities to support the LGBTI community occurred outside the country. Hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms do not exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTI community. International LGBTI NGOs reported that many young gay men faced harassment and abuse from family members, religious figures, school leaders, and community elders. Authorities reportedly expelled some persons from universities for alleged same-sex sexual activity. Those dismissed from mandatory military service due to their sexual orientation received special exemption cards indicating the reason for their dismissal, which became the basis for later discrimination.

On September 17, police arrested several dozen persons in Shiraz after a raid on a social gathering. LGBTI rights organizations reported that police forced several individuals to undergo rectal examinations while in custody and that prison authorities beat many of them while incarcerated.

The law defines transgender persons as mentally ill, and the government provided transgender persons financial assistance in the form of grants of up to 45 million rial ($1,506) and loans up to 55 million rial ($1,841) to undergo gender-confirmation surgery. Additionally, the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare requires health insurers to cover the cost of gender-confirmation surgery. Individuals who underwent gender-confirmation surgery may petition a court for new identity documents with corrected gender data, which the government reportedly provided efficiently and transparently. Human rights activists and NGOs reported that authorities pressured some LGBTI persons to undergo gender-confirmation surgery to avoid legal and social consequences due to their sexual orientation or gender-identity ambiguity. The March report by the UN special rapporteur addressed concerns about the quality of the medical care in these surgeries. [See also: “Iran campaign seeks end to coerced LGBT sex changes” (July 2014, 76crimes.com)]

Iraq

The constitution provides that all citizens are equal before the law without regard to gender, sect, opinion, belief, nationality, or origin. The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, language, religion, social origin, political opinion, age, or social status. The government was ineffective in enforcing these provisions. The law does not address sexual orientation or gender identity, disability, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases.

[The Erasing 76 Crimes blog includes Iraq in its list of countries with anti-gay laws on this basis: “In practice Iraq defers to Sharia judges who, as ILGA notes, ‘continue to order executions of men and  women for same-sex sexual behaviour.’ “]

Neither hate crime nor antidiscrimination laws exist, nor do other criminal justice mechanisms exist to aid in the prosecution of crimes motivated by bias against members of the LGBTI community. Despite repeated threats and violence targeting LGBTI individuals, the government failed to identify, arrest, or prosecute attackers or to protect targeted individuals.

Iraqi checkpoint, a place where gay men say they are in danger. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

Iraqi checkpoint, a place where gay men say they are in danger. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

No law specifically prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity, although the law prohibits sodomy, irrespective of gender. There was no data on prosecutions for sodomy.

Authorities relied on public indecency charges or confessions of monetary exchange (that is for prostitution, which is illegal) to prosecute same-sex sexual activity. Authorities used the same charges to arrest heterosexual persons involved in sexual relations with persons other than their spouses.

The law does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Societal discrimination in employment, occupation, and housing based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and unconventional appearance was common. Information was not available regarding discrimination in access to education or health care.

Due to stigma, intimidation, and potential harm, including violent attacks, LGBTI organizations did not operate openly, nor were there gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events. LGBTI persons often faced abuse and violence from family and nongovernmental actors. In addition to targeted violence, members of the LGBTI community remained at risk for honor crimes, since their conduct did not conform to traditional gender norms. LGBTI rights groups attributed the lack of publicized cases of attacks to the low profile of members of the LGBTI community, who altered their public dress and lifestyle to conform to societal norms. NGOs established shelters for individuals who feared attacks and continued to accommodate victims. They periodically received threats and relocated shelters for security reasons. Community activists reported that violence and intimidation continued. [For more information, see the September 2012 article “Iraq has become a death trap for gay men.”]

According to international media reports and human rights organizations, throughout the year Da’esh [also known as the Islamic State, ISIS and ISIL] published videos depicting alleged executions of persons accused of homosexuality. For example, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, an international human rights organization, cited widely published January 16 photographs of Da’esh members throwing LGBTI men from tall buildings in central Mosul in Ninewa Governorate. On March 8, Da’esh beheaded two individuals accused of homosexuality and a third for blasphemy in the Bab al-Toob area of Mosul. Between June and August, UNAMI cited several other cases of Da’esh executing civilians by throwing them off tall buildings, all accused of sodomy or homosexuality.

Following a series of 2012 attacks on LGBTI persons, the Council of Ministers established an interministerial committee to investigate the attacks and provide recommendations on LGBTI rights. According to human rights organizations, the committee was not operational and had not completed any reports at year’s end.

“Israel and The Occupied Territories”

The law [in Israel] prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the government generally enforced these laws, although discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity persisted in some parts of society. Oded Frid, executive director of the Aguda, the Israeli national LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) task force in Tel Aviv, and staff at the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, a leading LGBTI organization, said most of the LGBTI community’s gains came through the courts, and not through legislation.

UNHCR [the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees] expressed continuing concerns for West Bank residents who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation and who requested legal residency status in Israel. There is no mechanism for granting such persons legal status, leaving those who cannot return to the West Bank due to fear of persecution and vulnerability to human traffickers, violence, and exploitation. In 2013 the government established an interministerial team to examine the problem, and the Aguda and the Aid Organization for Refugees, an NGO serving asylum seekers, formed a partnership to work on this problem.

PA [Palestinian Authority] law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, language, or social status. PA authorities worked to enforce these laws but often failed to do so. Some laws are discriminatory. For example, it is illegal for a Palestinian to sell land to Israelis, an offense punishable by death.

Hamas, despite remaining under the authority of Palestinian laws prohibiting discrimination, continued to implement discriminatory policies based on race, political affiliation, gender, and sexual orientation.

Palestinian law, based on the 1960 Jordanian penal code, prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity, although the PA did not prosecute individuals suspected of such activity. Societal discrimination based on cultural and religious traditions was commonplace, making the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza challenging environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Some Palestinians claimed PA security officers and neighbors harassed, abused, and sometimes arrested LGBTI individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs reported Hamas also harassed and detained persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Kuwait

Headline of Arab Times story, which appeared under an unrelated photo of government officials.

In 2013, the Arab Times reported arrests of hundreds of LGBTI people in Kuwait. (The article appeared under an unrelated photo of government officials.)

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, origin, disability, or language. The government did not consistently enforce laws against discrimination, and a number of laws and regulations discriminated against women, bidoon [more than 100,000 technically stateless residents whom Kuwait considers illegal immigrants], noncitizens, and foreign workers.

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men and cross-dressing are illegal. The law punishes consensual same-sex sexual activity between men older than 21 with imprisonment of up of to seven years; those engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity with men younger than 21 may be imprisoned for as long as 10 years. No laws criminalize sexual behavior between women. The law imposes a fine of 1,059 dinars ($3,530) and imprisonment for one to three years for persons imitating the appearance of the opposite sex in public. Transgender persons reported harassment, detainment, and abuse by security forces. A human rights organization reported that authorities incarcerated two transgender persons due to their transgender identity.

Police arrested seven cross-dressers and gay men in September after allegedly breaking up a party at a private residence. Police reportedly obtained a warrant, raided the residence, and charged those arrested with engaging in immoral activities.

Societal discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity occurred; to a lesser extent, officials also practiced such discrimination, usually upon discovering that a person stopped for a traffic violation did not appear to be the gender indicated on the identification card. Transgender men and women often faced rejection by their families and, in some cases, disputes over inheritances. [See also the May 2013 article, “Kuwait: 215 arrested ‘for being gay’? Not quite“]

No registered NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, although unregistered ones existed. Due to social convention and potential repression, LGBTI organizations neither operated openly nor held gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events.

Lebanon

The law provides for equality among all citizens and prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status. Although the government generally respected these provisions, they were not enforced, especially with regard to economic matters, and aspects of the law and traditional beliefs discriminated against women. The law does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Official and societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTI) persons persisted. There is no all-encompassing antidiscrimination law to protect LGBTI persons. The law prohibits “unnatural sexual intercourse,” an offense punishable by up to one year in prison but rarely applied; however, it often resulted in a fine. The Ministry of Justice did not keep records on these infractions. There were no reports authorities imprisoned anyone for violation of this law during the year.

On the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, celebrities speak for tolerance in Lebanon. (Click on the image to see the video.)

On the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in 2015, celebrities spoke out for tolerance in Lebanon. (Click on the image to see the video.)

Various NGOs, including Helem, AFE, and Marsa, hosted regular meetings in a safe house, provided counseling services, and carried out advocacy projects for the LGBTI community.

Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or lack of access to education or health care based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The government did not collect such information, and individuals who faced problems were reluctant to report incidents due to fear of additional discrimination. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination. During the year Marsa reported that a worker lost his job after informing the company’s human resources department that he was HIV positive. During the year Oui Pour La Vie, an NGO working on the issue of stigma and discrimination against LGBTI persons, reported employers expelled two transgender women and one gay person from their work because of their gender identity and sexual orientation.

NGOs claimed LGBTI persons underreported incidents of violence and abuse due to negative social stereotypes. Observers received reports from LGBTI refugees of physical abuse by local gangs, which the victims did not report to the ISF; observers referred victims to UNHCR-sponsored protective services.

Libya

Libyan men reportedly detained by extremist militia for being gay

In 2012, 12 Libyan men were detained by extremist militia, reportedly for being gay

The Constitutional Declaration contains clear references to equal rights and states that all citizens are equal before the law in enjoying civil and political rights, equal opportunities, and the duties of citizenship without discrimination based on religion; sect; language; wealth; sex; descent; political views; social status; or regional, family, or tribal affiliations. The law mandates punishment of not less than one year’s imprisonment for anyone guilty of discrimination based on class, group, region of origin, gender, or color. The government enforced neither the prohibitions nor the punishments effectively.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) orientations remained illegal, and official and societal discrimination against LGBTI persons persisted. The penal code punishes consensual same-sex sexual activity by three to five years in prison. The law provides for punishment of both parties.

There was scant information on and no reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, or health care. Observers noted that threat of possible violence or abuse could intimidate persons who reported such discrimination. There was no information on whether there were hate crime laws or other judicial mechanisms to aid in prosecuting bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTI community.

Citizens tended to hold negative views of LGBTI persons and stigmatize homosexuality. There were reports of physical violence, harassment, and blackmail based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Militias often policed communities to enforce compliance with militia commanders’ understanding of “Islamic” behavior, and harassed and threatened with impunity individuals believed to have LGBTI orientations and their families.

Morocco

Anti-homophobia imagery from Morocco. (Photo courtesy of Moroccan Queer Feminist)

Anti-homophobia imagery from Morocco. (Photo courtesy of Moroccan Queer Feminist)

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, social status, faith, culture, regional origin, or any other personal circumstance. Discrimination occurred nonetheless based on each of these factors. The constitution mandates the creation of a body to promote gender equality and resolve parity issues–the Authority for Equality and the Fight against All Forms of Discrimination–but authorities did not fashion implementing legislation for the body by year’s end.

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity with a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Media and the public addressed questions of sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity more openly than in previous years.

The government deems LGBTI orientation or identity illegal.

Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTI persons, and the penal code does not criminalize hate crimes. There was a stigma against LGBTI persons, but there were no reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, or health care. Authorities prosecuted individuals engaged in same-sex sexual activity at least once during the year.

In one widely publicized case, authorities sentenced two men to three months in prison and a fine of 500 dirhams ($50) for the crime of “breach of public modesty” and “homosexuality.” Authorities arrested them for publicly kissing in the proximity of Hassan Tower in Rabat, allegedly in connection with a protest in the same location by French LGBTI group “Femen” the previous day. The men’s attorneys contested the charges, stating that the men were not connected to the protests, and authorities could not show that they engaged in “indecent behavior.”

Sexual orientation and gender identity constituted a basis for societal violence, harassment, blackmail, or other actions, generally at a local level, although with reduced frequency. There were reports of societal discrimination, physical violence, or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

For example, in June observers filmed a mob of men in Fes attacking a man presumed to be gay. Authorities arrested several of the men involved in the beating; however, a July 2 statement by the Ministries of Interior and Justice implied that the victim had violated the law, while urging individuals not to “take matters into their own hands.” In a separate incident in September, police arrested two men in Casablanca for assaulting another man whom they presumed to be gay. Reportedly, they forced him to undress before attempting to blackmail him with threats of showing a video of the assault to his family.

Oman

Location of Oman at the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, along with Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. (Map courtesy of international.gc.ca)

Location of Oman at the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and portions of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. (Map courtesy of international.gc.ca)

The law prohibits discrimination against citizens based on gender, ethnic origin, race, language, religion, place of residence, and social class. The government selectively enforced prohibitions on some bases of discrimination.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced legal, institutional, and social discrimination. The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct with a jail term of six months to three years. There were no reports of prosecutions during the year, although there were three arrests for sodomy in 2014. Social and cultural norms reinforced discrimination against openly LGBTI persons.

Public discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity remained a social taboo, and authorities took steps to block LGBTI-related internet content. Observers believed that social stigma and intimidation prevented LGBTI persons from reporting incidents of violence or abuse. In October media reported that France’s regional Arabic-language radio station, Monte Carlo Doualiya, suspended broadcasting in Oman following strong online criticism after it aired an interview with a gay Omani activist.

Transgender persons were not recognized as a gender class by the government and were not afforded protection from discrimination.

There are no known LGBTI organizations active in the country; however, there are regional human rights organizations that focused on the human rights of LGBTI Omanis. There were no pride marches or LGBTI rights advocacy events.

Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.

Qatar

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, language, and religion, but it did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. The law does not prohibit discrimination based upon political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status or other disease status. Local custom outweighed government enforcement of nondiscrimination laws. Legal, cultural, and institutional discrimination existed against women, noncitizens, and foreign workers. The UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants reported salaries were sometimes calculated on the basis of nationality rather than experience or qualification levels.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced discrimination under the law and in practice. The law prohibits same-sex sexual conduct between men but does not explicitly prohibit same-sex relations between women. Under the law a man convicted of having sexual relations with a boy younger than 16 years is subjected to a sentence of life in prison. A man convicted of having same-sex sexual relations with a man 16 years of age or older may receive a sentence of seven years in prison. The number of such cases before the courts during the year was unknown.

There were no public reports of violence against LGBTI persons. LGBTI individuals largely hid their sexual preferences in public due to an underlying pattern of discrimination toward LGBTI persons based on cultural and religious values prevalent in the society. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination nor are there antidiscrimination laws.

Due to social and religious conventions, there were no LGBTI organizations, nor were there gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Victims of such discrimination, however, were unlikely to come forth and complain because of the potential for further harassment or discrimination.

Saudi Arabia

Scene at a training session of the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Scene at a training session of the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

The law prohibits discrimination based on race but not gender, sex, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, or social status. The law and tradition discriminate based on gender. The law and the guardianship system restrict women to the status of legal dependents vis-a-vis their male guardians. This status is unchanged, even after women reach adulthood. Women and some men faced widespread and state-enforced segregation based on societal, cultural, and religious traditions.

The government generally reinforced sharia-based traditional prohibitions on discrimination based on disability, language, social status, or race. Nevertheless, discrimination based on race, lineage, or social status were common.

Under sharia as interpreted in the country, consensual same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death or flogging, depending on the perceived seriousness of the case. It is illegal for men “to behave like women” or to wear women’s clothes and vice versa. Due to social conventions and potential persecution, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations did not operate openly, nor were there gay rights advocacy events of any kind. There were reports of official societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, statelessness, access to education, or health care. Stigma or intimidation acted to limit reports of incidents of abuse. Sexual orientation and gender identity could constitute the basis for harassment, blackmail, or other actions.

There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination. On June 23, the Ministry of Interior tweeted statements regarding a resolution on LGBTI rights at the UN Human Rights Council, noting that the government did not support the resolution and rejecting international interference in its internal affairs.

In June authorities arrested several persons in Jeddah following raids on two parties involving LGBTI individuals. In July a Twitter account associated with the CPVPV [the Saudi religious police, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice] announced a $25,000 fine for an international school that had painted rainbows on its building, calling them “emblems of homosexuality.”

Syria

The constitution provides for equal rights and equal opportunity for all citizens and prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status. The government did not enforce the law effectively or make any serious attempt to do so. Women faced widespread violence, discrimination, and significant restrictions on their rights. Da’esh imposed severe restrictions on women’s personal conduct, attire, and freedom of movement in the territory it controlled.

The penal code prohibits homosexual relations, defined as “carnal relations against the order of nature,” and provides for at least three years’ imprisonment for violations. The law specifically criminalizes any sexual act that is “contrary to nature.” In previous years police used this charge to prosecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. There were no reports of prosecutions under the law during the year, although reports indicated the government arrested dozens of gay men and lesbians over the past several years on charges, such as abusing social values; selling, buying, or consuming illegal drugs; and organizing and promoting “obscene” parties.

Although there were no known domestic NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, there were several online networking communities, including an online LGBTI-oriented magazine. Human rights activists reported there was overt societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of society. There were also reports of extremist groups threatening LGBTI activists.

Local media reported numerous instances in which security forces used accusations of homosexuality as a pretext to detain, arrest, and torture civilians. The frequency of such instances was difficult to determine, since police rarely reported their rationale for arrests. Furthermore, social stigma prevented many victims of such abuse from coming forward, even when accusations were false.

In February photos and videos began appearing on social media that showed Da’esh [the Islamic State, or ISIS or ISIL] pushing men suspected of “being gay” from rooftops in Raqqa. In April Da’esh released images on social media showings members stoning men to death for being gay. In June the UN Secretary-General reported that Da’esh blindfolded and threw a man off a building on May 17 for being gay.

Tunisia

Graphic from Shams, which seeks the repeal of Tunisia's Article 230.

Graphic from the organization Shams, which seeks the repeal of Tunisia’s anti-gay Article 230.

The law and constitution explicitly prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status, and the government generally enforced these prohibitions, although discrimination against women occurred due to customary law and social norms. The law is silent regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.

The law criminalizes sodomy. Convictions carry up to a three-year prison sentence. According to NGOs, authorities occasionally use the law against sodomy to detain and question persons about their sexual activities and orientation, reportedly at times based on appearance alone. LGBTI NGOs reported 56 known cases of arrests under the sodomy law during the year.

As an example of such arrests, on December 10, six men from Rakkada were sentenced to three years each for sodomy, after being forced to undergo a rectal examination. One of the men was sentenced to an additional six months for an “attack on public morals” after police found a video clip on his computer. The court also banished the men from their town for five years after they are released from prison.

Associations advocating for LGBTI rights organized a campaign against these arrests, which quickly gained popularity on social media and garnered international media attention. These associations, along with international NGOs, demanded release of the men and that parliament rescind the law against sodomy.

Then minister of justice Mohamed Salah Ben Aissa, in a radio interview, said the law runs counter to the right to privacy, and citizens should work together to repeal it. The president, however, stated that the government would not repeal the law.

Anecdotal evidence suggested LGBTI individuals faced discrimination and violence, although societal stigma and fear of prosecution under sodomy laws likely discouraged individuals from reporting problems. Due to societal intolerance of same-sex sexual relationships, LGBTI individuals were discreet, and there was no information on official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, access to education, or health care. Despite the hostile environment, numerous LGBTI-oriented websites and Facebook pages were not censored. LGBTI advocacy work was done by several small organizations formed after 2011.

In March several LGBTI associations organized a small gay pride festival in Tunis–the first of its kind in the country. Associations also organized events for the International Day against Homophobia in May.

During a November 28 plenary session of parliament, Member of Parliament Abdellatif Mekki called for the dissolution of LGBTI NGO Shams, arguing that the organization constituted a threat to Tunisian society, and that it advocated for “criminal practices.” Organizations objected to the statement, noting they had complied with all legal requirements to be registered as associations. In December the vice president of Shams left the country, citing threats against his life from extremists.

United Arab Emirates

The constitution provides for equality of citizens without regard to race or social status. Additionally, the law (including the Anti-Discrimination Law) prohibits discrimination based on disability, religion, belief, sect, faith, creed, race, and ethnicity. Legal and cultural discrimination, however, existed and went unpunished. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sex, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, language, or communicable diseases; however, the constitution states all persons are equal before the law. The government took some steps to advance the rights of women and promote their role in all sectors of society such as encouraging their participation as candidates in the October FNC election.

Both civil law and sharia criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Under sharia individuals who engage in consensual same-sex sexual conduct are subject to the death penalty. Dubai’s penal code allows for up to a 10-year prison sentence for conviction of such activity. There were reports of arrests for consensual same-sex activity.

Due to social conventions and potential repression, LGBTI organizations did not operate openly, nor were gay pride marches or gay rights advocacy events held. Information was not available on official or private discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination.

By law wearing clothing deemed inappropriate for one’s sex is a punishable offense. The government deported foreign residents and referred the cases of individuals who wore clothing deemed inappropriate to the public prosecutor. For example, in August authorities arrested and deported two men for being drunk and wearing women’s clothing in public.

Yemen

Port of Aden in Yemen. (Photo courtesy of SigmaLive.com)

Port of Aden in Yemen. (Photo courtesy of SigmaLive.com)

The law provides for equal rights and equal opportunity regardless of race, gender, language, belief, or disability, in accordance with the UN Charter, the International Declaration of Human Rights, and the Charter of the Arab League, as affirmed by the 1994 constitution, but the government-in-exile could not enforce the law in country. Discrimination based on race, gender, social status, sexual orientation and gender identity, and disability remained a serious problem. Some groups, such as the marginalized Muhamasheen or Akhdam community and the Muwaladeen (Yemenis born to foreign parents), faced social and institutional discrimination based on social status. Societal discrimination severely limited women’s ability to exercise equal rights.

Article 75 of the draft constitution completed in January, under the authority of the provisional government and awaiting review (see section 3), affirmed “equal rights, freedoms, and public duties without discrimination due to sex, skin color, race, origin, religion, sect, belief, opinion, economic or social status, disability, political or geographic affiliation, occupation, birth, or any other considerations.”

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced discrimination and could face the death penalty, although there have been no known executions of LGBTI persons in more than a decade. The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, with the death penalty as a sanction, under the country’s interpretation of Islamic law.

Due to the illegality of and possible severe punishment for consensual same-sex sexual conduct, there were no LGBTI organizations. Because the law does not prohibit discrimination, the government did not consider LGBTI problems “relevant” for official reporting, and few LGBTI persons were open about their sexual orientation or gender identity. The government blocked access to LGBTI internet sites. LGBTI persons in Aden reported threats from AQAP [al-Qaeda  in the Arabian Peninsula]; non-Yemen-based LGBTI rights blogs reported on the killings of four gay men by AQAP in Aden.

11 thoughts on “LGBTI rights activism: Mostly hidden in Middle East, N. Africa

  1. Of course, LGBT and Allied people are not limited to only LGBT-specific situations and thus when governments harm LGBT and Allied people those governments simply send the message that none of the other areas should be maintained by LGBT and Allied people, undermining everything for everyone so that everyone sinks or swims together. That’s why discrimination leads to the end of the rule of law for everything rather than any kind of strengthening of the rule of law.

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