LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia are already some of the least progressive in the world, but according to a new report, they might be taking a step even further back.
Saudi newspaper Oraz reported that prosecutors are planning to push for the death penalty against LGBT citizens they find living openly on social media. Engaging in homosexual activity or wearing clothing that does not correspond to genitalia is perceived to be on the rise in the country. More than 50 cases of “cross-dressing” men — the report did not specify if they were transgender men — and 35 cases of sodomy have been reported in the last six months in Saudi Arabia.
The publication of the article has LGBT people in Saudi Arabia scrambling. While the death penalty is already legal for crimes related to non-traditional sexuality and sexual identity, being executed for coming out on social media is not yet the norm. A push in that direction could be deathly for the country’s repressed gay community.
One of the primary motivations to crack down on LGBT rights is fear that social media is pushing the gay agenda in Saudi Arabia. Some believe that using the platform has allowed marginalized communities to find a voice in the repressive regime, and because of that, it needs to be limited.
LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia have often been a sore point of relations with the United States. While the U.S. expresses support for LGBT issues abroad, it still maintains close ties with one of world’s worst offenders. When contacted by the Washington Blade, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor responded that they were currently investigating the veracity of these claims.
“[We are] aware of these reports, but cannot verify their accuracy… We continue to gather more information… “The United States works every day, both here in Washington and at our embassies and consulates around the world, to ensure that all persons can exercise their human rights, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Within the country and outside its borders, LGBT people and their supporters have used the very tool being blamed for their sexuality and gender identity — social media — to fight back against the threat of capital punishment. Under the hashtag “You will not terrorize me, I’m gay,” they posted messages condemning the prosecutors.
No one can pick if they’re born Saudi or American, gay or straight. Equal rights for all! #لن_ترهبوني_انا_مثلي
— ☆ OTEP SHAMAYA ☆ (@otepofficial) March 26, 2016
I support the lgbtq+ community in Saudi Arabia, you are not alone???? #لن_ترهبوني_انا_مثلي pic.twitter.com/4dhUAvMCld
— Bish sho? (@arabish_) March 27, 2016
How is Saudi Arabia – one of the biggest human rights violators in the world – Chair of the UN Human Rights Council? #لن_ترهبوني_انا_مثلي
— Khaled Beydoun (@KhaledBeydoun) March 26, 2016
أساند حملة #لن_ترهبوني_انا_مثلي
ومع أن أنا مش مثلي بس أنا مثلي علشان أحرق دمكو بس. أي خدمة.
— AlyaaGad AfhamTVأفهم (@AlyaaGad) March 26, 2016
Saudi Arabia’s rejection of gay rights has been a contentious part of its relationship with other countries as well, especially in organizations like the United Nations. Last year, the Islamic country asserted that it would not follow a new sustainable development goal that called for LGBT equality. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir clearly stated that no such agenda would be moving forward in his country.
“Mentioning sex in the text, to us, means exactly male and female. Mentioning family means consisting of a married man and woman.”
Saudi Arabia’s representative was joined in opposing the resolution by other countries that still impose the death penalty for homosexuality. Ambassador Usman Sarki of Nigeria, where LGBT crimes are also punishable by death, demanded that the draft be scraped of all such references.
Eventually, the UN caved to Saudi Arabia and struck LGBT rights from the list of goals for 2030, reported Pink News.
[Image via David Silverman/Getty Images]