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International Alliance for Advanced Judicial Studies (IAAJS)

LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia

 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Saudi Arabia face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents, and Saudi Arabia is considered to have one of the worst LGBT rights records in the world. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal. LGBT rights are not recognized by the government of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi social mores and laws are heavily influenced by Arab tribal customs and ultra-conservative Wahhabi Islam. Homosexuality and being transgender are widely seen as immoral and indecent activities, and the law punishes acts of homosexuality or cross-dressing with punishments of fines, public whipping, beatings, vigilante attacks, chemical castrations, prison time up to life, capital punishment and torture.

Saudi Arabia has no criminal code. Traditionally, the legal system of Saudi Arabia has consisted of royal decrees and the legal rulings of Islamic judges and clerics, and is not based on legal codes and written law. Much subsequent written law has focused on business and foreign relations. Reformers have often called for codified laws to be instituted, and there appears to be a trend in the country to codify, publish and even translate some Saudi criminal and civil laws.

The "Rules of Apprehension, Temporary Custody & Precautionary Detention Regulation" codified the criminal code on homosexuality by listing it among the crimes that warranted arrest and detention. In addition to law enforcement, a second royal decree formally established the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) and gave this committee the power to arrest and detain people who violate the traditional teaches of Islam, including acts of homosexuality and cross-dressing.

In 2000 the Saudi government reported that it had sentenced nine Saudi men to extensive prison terms with lashing for engaging in cross-dressing and homosexual relations. That same year the government executed three Yemeni male workers for homosexuality and child molestation.

Persons caught living in the kingdom illegally are often accused of other crimes, involving illegal drugs, pornography, prostitution and homosexuality. Several such police crackdowns were reported in 20042005. A similar raid in 2008 netted Filipino workers arrested on charges of alcohol and gay prostitution. The Arab News newspaper article on the arrests stated, "Gay rights are not recognized in the Middle East countries and the publication of any material promoting them is banned".

In 2010, a 27-year-old Saudi man was sentenced to five years in prison, 500 lashes of the whip, and a SR50,000 fine after appearing in an amateur gay video online allegedly taken inside a Jeddah prison. According to an unnamed government source, "The District Court sentenced the accused in a homosexuality case that was referred to it by the CPVPV (the Hai'a) in Jeddah before he was tried for impersonating a security man and behaving shamefully and with conduct violating the Islamic teachings." The case started when the Hai'a's staff arrested the man under charges of practicing homosexuality. He was referred to the Bureau for Investigation and Prosecution, which referred him to the District Court.

The Saudi government does not permit sex change operations to occur in the kingdom, and it does not allow people to obtain new legal documents to have their gender changed on their documents. Much like with homosexuality, family members may feel obligated to kill an LGBT sibling or relative in order to "save face" or restore the family's honor and esteem within the community.

Saudi Arabia has no laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Harassment or violence against LGBT people is not addressed in any bias motivated or hate crime law. Advocacy for LGBT rights is illegal within the kingdom and the only group to do so would appear to be the Green Party of Saudi Arabia. The required exit and entry visa paperwork does not ask people about their sexual orientation, as it does their nationality, sex, religion and marital status. In 2019, Mirel Radoi, a Romanian football player who plays for the Saudi Alhilal Club, was fined 20,000 Saudi Riyals and suspended for two matches after calling a Saudi Arabian football player, Hussein Abdul Ghani, who plays for Nasr Club, gay. The public comment, intended as an insult, was highly controversial and generated quite a bit of coverage in the Saudi press, including the refusal of Hussein Abdul Ghani to shake hands with Mirel Radoi after a later game.

Private schools exist in Saudi Arabia, mainly to serve the needs of expatriates with children, and they are generally allowed more discretion in setting up their own school curriculum and policies. Unless a majority of the expatriate families are Muslim, the private school is likely to only teach the basic beliefs of Islam, through lessons about the culture, language and history of Saudi Arabia. Textbook content or policies regarding homosexuality or cross-dressing tends to be influenced by the prevailing attitudes of the expatriates and their country of origin.

 
 

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