LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia

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LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Illegal
Death penalty Capital Punishment
Islamic Sharia law applies
(see below)
Gender identity/expression -
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex relationships
Adoption -
Military service -
Discrimination protections None

LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia are not recognized. Homosexuality and cross-dressing are widely seen as immoral acts, and are treated as serious crimes. In recent decades there have been reports of an underground LGBT community. While the kingdom has faced criticism from human rights organizations, it insists that it is always acting in accordance with Islamic morality.

Criminal Code

Traditionally, Saudi Arabia's criminal code was not codified as much as it was the product of royal decrees and the legal opinions of Sunni judges and clerics. Much of the subsequent written law has focused primarily on the areas of economics and foreign relations. Reformists have often called for codified laws, and there does appear to be a trend within the country to codify, publish, and even translate some Saudi criminal and civil laws [1].

In 1928, the Saudi judicial board advised Muslim judges to look for guidance in two books by the Hanbalite jurist Mar'I ibn Yusuf al-Karmi al Maqdisi (d.1033/1624). Liwat (sodomy) is to be "treated like fornication, and must be punished in the same way. If muhsan (married, or within a legal concubinage) and free, one must be stoned to death, while a free bachelor must be whipped 100 lashes and banished for a year." Sodomy is thus proven either by the perpetrator confessing four times or by the testimony of four trustworthy Muslim men. If there are fewer than four witnesses, or if one of them is not upstanding, they are all to be chastised with 80 lashes for slander.[2]

It is unclear if this judicial advisory is still enacted, or how many people have been executed for sodomy. Some of the official news reports on persons convicted of sodomy often seem to provide conflicting opinions.

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.[3] That same year the government executed three Yemeni male workers for homosexuality and child molestation.[4]

In April 2005, the government convicted over a hundred men of homosexuality, but none were sentenced to be executed. All those men were given prison sentences with flogging because they were at a private party that was either a same-sex wedding ceremony or a birthday party.[5] Yet, not long after a gay foreign couple was sentenced to death for homosexuality and allegedly killing a man who was blackmailing them for homosexuality.

In May 2005, the government arrested 92 men for homosexuality, who were given sentences ranging from fines to prison sentences of several months and lashings. Likewise, on November 7, 2005 Riyadh police raided what the Saudi press called a "beauty contest for gay men" at al-Qatif. What became of the five men arrested for organizing the event, is not known.[6]

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 2004 - 2005[7]. Another similar raid in 2008, netted Filipino workers arrested on charges of alcohol and gay prostitution[8]. The Arab News 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".[9]

International protests from human rights organizations prompted some Saudi officials within the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington D.C. to unofficially imply that their kingdom will only use the death penalty when someone has been convicted of child molestation, rape, sexual assault, murder or engaging in anything deemed to be a form of political advocacy.[10]

Right to privacy

The Saudi Constitution does not provide for a right to privacy. The government can, with a court order, search homes, vehicles, places of business and intercept private communications. People living in the kingdom should assume that communications can be seized by the government for evidence in a criminal trial.

Civil rights laws

Saudi Arabia has no laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. An employer is free to discriminate against a gay employee or subject them to blackmail. The exit and entry paperwork does not ask people about their sexual orientation, as it does their nationality, religion and marital status. No same-sex marriage, domestic partnership or civil union has any legal standing in the nation and may be used as evidence to initiate criminal proceedings.


The Saudi government censors all forms of communications for themes deemed to be offensive to the royal family or Islam, as per Wahhabism. This includes all newspapers, magazines, comic books, advertisements, film, television broadcasts, Internet webpages, CDs, VHSs, DVDs, cassette tapes, and all video or computer software that is sold in the kingdom. This includes people bringing in such material into the kingdom, even if it is for personal use.

Royal decrees, i.e. Royal Decree for Printed Material and Publications of 1982, provide a list of prohibited topics [11], with fines and imprisonment for violators. Since the 1990s, Saudi newspapers and other publications have been permitted to make occasional reference to LGBT themes, often in terms of criminal law or the number of people infected with AIDS-HIV in the kingdom. However, sodomy, homosexuality and cross-dressing are only spoken of as sign of immorality, criminality, disease, defect or western decadence [12]. No endorsement of gay rights is permitted.

Public movie theatres have been unofficially banned since the early 1980s, although there is some public discussion about lifting this ban,[13] with a four day film festival being allowed to exist [1]. Home movies, including VHS and DVDs, are allowed, if they have been censored, and sold in many stores. However, Saudi Customs agents do keep a list of films that are not permitted to enter the kingdom, and will be confiscated.

Satellite television exists in a legal gray area. It used to be illegal, although the ban was oftentimes ignored and recent polling data suggests that over ninety percent of Saudi households have satellite television[14]. While it is still, technically, illegal, the government has started up its own Satellite stations, and has been in the works to develop a pan-Arab censorship policy to crack down on live talk shows and other programming that features controversial political discussions and debates.

The Saudi government has frequently blocked Internet users in the kingdom from accessing web pages that deal with LGBT political or social issues, even if they are not pornographic. These blocks are sometimes temporarily removed due to international criticism [15].

In 2001, Saudi teacher and playwright Muhammad Al-Suhaimi was charged with promoting homosexuality and after a trial was sentenced to prison. In 2006, he was given a pardon and allowed to resume teaching[16].


By law, every Saudi citizen that is infected with HIV or AIDS is entitled to free medical care, protection of their privacy and employment opportunities. The government has produced educational material on how the disease is spread and since the 1980s Abdullah al-Hokail, a Saudi doctor who specializes in the pandemic, has been allowed to air public service announcements on television about the disease and how it is spread[17].

Yet, ignorance and prejudice is often directed at people living with the disease. While the government has designated several hospitals to treat those people infected with AIDS or HIV, other hospitals often refuse to care for such people or fail to treat them in a compassionate and humane manner [18]. Hospitals and schools are often to distribute government information about the disease, because of the strong taboos and stigma that are attached to how the virus can be spread [19]. For example, condoms are not illegal, but, until recently, they were rarely available anywhere other than certain hospitals or medical supply stores.

While Health Ministers and religious leaders express the need to treat people living with the virus decently, they also note, "When Islam forbids adultery and homosexuality, it does so for the benefit of the human spirit and a person’s welfare and protection,” [20]


In the late 1990s the Saudi government began to slowly step up a public education campaign about AIDS-HIV. It started to recognize World AIDS Day, and the Arabic and English daily newspapers were permitted to run articles and opinions that expressed the need for more education about the disease and more compassion for those people infected. The number of people living in the kingdom who were infected was a closely guarded secret, as the official policy was often that the disease was not a serious problem in a kingdom because Saudis followed the principles of traditional Islamic morality.


In 2003 the government announced that it knew of 6,787 cases, and in 2004 the official number rose to 7,808. The government statistics claim that most of the registered cases are foreign males who contracted the disease through "forbidden" sexual relations[21].


In June 2006, the Ministry of Health publicly admitted that more than 10,000 Saudi citizens were either infected with HIV or had AIDS [22].

In December 2006 the Arab News ran an editorial that called for greeted public awareness of how the virus is spread and more compassion for those people infected[23].

It was this same year that a Saudi citizen named Rami al-Harithi revealed that he had become infected with HIV while having surgery and has become an official proponent of education and showing compassion to those people infected [24].

Saudi Princess Alia bint Abdullah has been involved in the Saudi AIDS Society, which was permitted in December 2006 to hold a public charity art auction followed by a discussion on how the disease was impacting the kingdom that included two Saudis living with HIV. The event was organized with the help of the Saudi National Program for Combating AIDS which is chaired by Dr. Sana Filimban.


In January 2007 a Saudi economics professor at King Abdul Aziz University was permitted to conduct of survey of a handful of Saudi University students on their level of education about the pandemic [25].

While much of the work on AIDS-HIV education has been supported by members of the Saudi royal family or medical doctors, there is an attempt to gain permission to create some independent AIDS societies, one of which is called Al-Husna Society, that would work on helping people infected with the disease find employment, education families and work to fight the prejudice that faces people infected [26].

In 2007, The Saudi Arabian National Society for Human Rights published a document suggesting ways to improve the treatment of people living with the disease. The proposed "Bill of Rights", document was criticized by some foreign human rights organizations for allegedly undermining human rights and global efforts to fight the pandemic [27].


In 2008, a new law was enacted, requiring all Saudi couples seeking to marry to get tested for AIDS-HIV. Previously the requirement had only applied to foreigners wishing to marry in the kingdom[28].

The Saudi Health Minister stated that it spends SR18 million to treat Saudis infected with HIV or AIDS. Several new Volunteer Counseling and Testing Centers (VCTCs) are planned to be set up to offer free education, including testing, about the deadly virus [29].

Foreigners and HIV/AIDS

Foreigners are required to demonstrate that they are not infected with the virus before they can enter the country, and are required to get a test to renew the residency permit. Any foreigner that is discovered to be infected will be deported to the country of origin as soon as they are deemed fit to travel.

Foreigners are not given access to any AIDS medications and while awaiting deportation may be segregated (imprisoned) from the rest of society [30].

Saudi LGBT community

Many expatriates may initially feel that social customs and laws encourage homosexuality [2] Unmarried women and families are generally kept separate from single men as much as possible, and dating is generally seen as being taboo, if not immoral. Opposite sex couples may be harassed if they demonstrate affection in public; however it is not uncommon to see heterosexual men expressing affection toward each other in public (e.g. kissing on the cheeks or holding hands.)

The practice of men holding hands, or kissing on the cheeks, in public is a social custom in parts of the Middle East and Asia and is a symbol of friendship and not homosexuality (broken citation link) [31]. Also given the limited sexual contact with women pre marriage, and the dangers in having an unmarried woman get pregnant, there is a degree of unspoken situational bisexuality that may exist among young men and women[32][33]. There have been some reports that this bisexuality is becoming more common among the upper classes [3]

Bars and nightclubs are illegal, although there are some reports of underground dance clubs in the major cities [4]. Private gatherings are generally permitted but they are often segregated by sex in order to reduce the risk of being raided by the police or the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which views combating homosexuality as one of its major objectives. [5].

LGBT politics

Only the underground Green Party of Saudi Arabia has endorsed the LGBT human rights movement and called for greater public openness about sexual orientation and gender identity issues. No public organization, club or society would be allowed to endorse LGBT human rights or even act as a social network for LGBT people in the kingdom.

Gender Identity

Cross-dressing is often associated with homosexuality, and thus illegal [34]. News reports suggest that the punishment involves fines, imprisonment, corporal punishment and or, for foreigners, deportation. Transsexuals cannot have a sex change operation in the kingdom and are not allowed to change the sex on their legal documents. The only narrow exception to this rule are people who are intersex[35]. Some Saudi women will dress up as men, in order to circumvent the restrictions that women face, i.e. the ban on driving or the sex-segregated public establishments[36].

See also



External links


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