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

Criminal Code Edit

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. Although their does appear to be a trend within the kingdom to codify, publish, even translate, Saudi 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 less than four witnesses, or one of them is not upright, 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]

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 some one has been convicted of child molestation, murder or engaging in anything deemed to be a form of political advocacy. [7]

Right to privacy Edit

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 Edit

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.

Censorship Edit

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 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 [8], with fines and imprisonment for violators. Since the 1990s, Saudi newspapers and other publications have been permitted to make occasional reference to homosexuals, often in terms of criminal law or the number of people infected with AIDS in the kingdom. However, homosexuality is often spoken of in negative terms as form of western decadence [9] and no endorsement of gay rights is permitted.

Public movie theaters have been unofficially banned since the early 1980s, although there is some public discussion about lifting this ban,[10] with a four day film festival being allowed to exist [11]. 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 use to be illegal, although the ban was oftentimes ignored and recent polling data suggests that over ninety percent of Saudi households have satellite television [12]. 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 [13].

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 [14].


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 Arabic language 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 Arabic language public service announcements on television about the disease and how it is spread.

Yet, most hospitals will not treat patients who are infected, and many schools and hospitals are reluctant to distribute government information about the disease, because of the strong taboos and stigma that are attached to how the virus can be spread [15].

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 [16].

In June 2006, the Ministry of Health publicly admitted that more than 10,000 Saudi citizens were either infected with HIV or had full blown AIDS [17]. Yet some public health experts feel that the government is still hiding the true statistics, which may be as high as 80,000 people, with about a fourth of them people expatriates.

In December 2006 the Arab News ran an editorial that called for greater public awareness of how the virus is spread and more compassion for those people infected [18].

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 [19].

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 [20].

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 [21].

Foreigners and HIV/AIDS Edit

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 [22].

Saudi LGBT community Edit

Many expatriates may initially feel that social customs and laws encourage homosexuality. 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. An opposite sex couples may be harassed if they demonstrate affection in public and it is not uncommon to see heterosexual men expressing affection toward each other in public (e.g. kissing or holding hands.)

The practice of men holding hands, or kissing, in public is a social custom in parts of the Middle East and Asia and is a symbol of friendship and not homosexuality [23]. Also given the limited access to women, and the dangers in having an unmarried woman get pregnant, there is a degree of unspoken of situational homosexuality or bisexuality that may exist among young men and women [24], [25].

Bars and nightclubs are illegal. Movie theaters are also illegal, although they may be permitted to exist on an Aramco compound. Private parties are permitted but they often unofficially segregated by nationality, sex, or language 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. Officially, much of the outdoors public entertainment comes from sports, shopping malls, restaurants, and cafes [26].

LGBT politics Edit

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 Edit

Cross-dressing is often associated with homosexuality, and thus illegal [27]. 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 [28].

Some Saudi young women engage in a "game" where they will dress up as a man, in order to circumvent the restrictions that women face, i.e. the ban on driving or the sex-segregated public establishments [29]. The game ends when they marry.

See also Edit

References Edit

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