LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia

LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia

Same-sex sexual activity legal? Illegal
Fines, floggings, prison time up to life, torture, chemical castrations,[1] whipping, torture, and/or death penalty on first offense. People convicted twice face execution. Vigilante executions are very common as well,[2] especially by families who want to "save face". The police participate in executions/torture or turn a blind eye to it.[3] Islamic Sharia law is strictly and emphatically applied
(see below)
Gender identity/expression –none
Military service –no
Discrimination protections No protection, discrimination is encouraged, enforced and heavily applied to the LGBT community
Family rights
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex relationships
Adoption –no
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Saudi Arabia
Basic Law
Foreign relations

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 transgenderism are widely seen as immoral and indecent activities, and the law punishes acts of homosexuality or cross-dressing with death, imprisonment, fines, corporal punishment, or whipping/flogging.


Criminal laws

Saudi Arabia has no criminal code as traditionally the legal system of Saudi Arabia has consisted of royal decrees and the legal opinions of Muslim judges and clerics, and not legal codes/written law. Much of the subsequent written law has focused 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.[4]

In 1928, the Saudi judicial board advised Muslim judges to look for guidance in two books by the Hanbalite jurist Marʿī ibn Yūsuf al-Karmī al-Maqdisī (d.1033/1624). Liwat (sodomy) is to be

"treated like fornication, and must be punished in the same way. If muḥṣan [commonly translated as "adulterer" but technically meaning someone who has had legal intercourse, but who may or may not currently be married] and free [not a slave], one must be stoned to death, while a free bachelor must be whipped 100 lashes and banished for a year."

Sodomy is proven either by the perpetrator confessing four times or by the testimony of four trustworthy Muslim men, who have been eyewitnesses to the act. 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.[5]

In the 1980s, Saudi King Khaled issued numerous royal decrees designed to guarantee support among religious conservatives in the aftermath of an uprising of religious fundamentalists in 1979, known as the Grand Mosque seizure.

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 authority to arrest and detain people who violate the traditional teaches of Islam, including acts of homosexuality and cross-dressing.

Combating homosexuality remains one of the major goals of the CPVPV, along with its campaign against consumption of alcohol and the practice of magic.[6]

Criminal Procedure


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.[7] That same year the government executed three Yemeni male workers for homosexuality and child molestation.[8]

In 2001, the Saudi government established formal criminal procedure rules, although many courts have been slow to adopt the rules.

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.[9]

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 7 November 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.[10]

In October 2007, British human rights activists protested recent reports that the Saudi government was sending British mosques material urging the killing of gays and subjugation of women.

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.[11] A similar raid in 2008 netted Filipino workers arrested on charges of alcohol and gay prostitution.[12] 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".[12]

International protests from human rights organizations prompted some Saudi officials within the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington D.C. to unofficially and incorrectly 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.[13]

In 2010, Prince Saud bin Abdulaziz bin Nasir al Saud was charged with the murder of his male companion while on holiday in London. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to a long prison term. According to the prosecutor, the Prince sexually and physically abused his servant as well as paid other men for sexual services.[14] The Saudi prince was subsequently transferred back to Saudi Arabia as part of a British-Saudi prisoner exchange deal

In 2011 - 2012 the Saudi newspaper called, "Okaz" announced that the government had arrested over 260 people for the crime of homosexuality over a one-year period. According to the official report, the men were caught cross-dressing, wearing ladies makeup and trying to pickup other men.[15]

During this government crackdown on homosexuality, the CPVPV was permitted to make certain high-profile arrests.

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.

Even government officials are not immune from criminal sanctions. A gay Saudi diplomat named Ali Ahmad Asseri applied for asylum in the United States after the Saudi government discovered his sexuality.[16]

Recent reports of people being executed for homosexuality often add other charges to the offense, typically theft, rape or murder. For example, a gay Yemeni was executed for homosexuality and murder in 2013.[17]

In 2014, a 24-year-old Saudi Arabian man was sentenced to three years detention and 450 lashes after a Medina court found him guilty of "promoting the vice and practice of homosexuality," after he was caught using Twitter to arrange dates with other men.[18]

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.

Discrimination and harassment

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.

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. 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.

In 2011, 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.[19]

In 2013, the Gulf Cooperative Countries, which Saudi Arabia is a member, announced plans to ban LGBT foreigners from entering Gulf countries. The ban would reportedly be enforced through some type of test.[20]


Public education in Saudi Arabia is required to teach basic Islamic values based on interpretation of the Quran, which includes strong condemnation of homosexuality. In addition, Islam condemns cross-dressing. The Ministry Of Education approved textbooks that reflect the county's Islamic view against homosexual acts by stating that "[h]omosexuality is one of the most disgusting sins and greatest crimes", and that the proper punishment for the intentional act of homosexual intercourse in public is the capital punishment[Saudi Ministry of Education Textbooks for Islamic Studies: 2007-2008 Academic Year. Center for Religious Freedom of Hudson Institute]

In 2012, the Saudi government asked the CPVPV to assist in the expulsion of students who were judged, by their mannerisms and taste in fashion, to be gay or lesbian.[21]

Private schools exist in Saudi Arabia, mainly to serve the needs of expatriates with children, and they are generally allowed a bit 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.


The Saudi government censors the media with fines, imprisonment and, for foreigners, deportation for any person possessing, importing, distributing or producing media without governmental approval. Media content, including advertising, cannot be seen as insulting the royal family or conflicting with Islamic teachings and values.[22] Insulting Saudi royalty could itself be an offense punishable by death.

Homosexuality and cross-dressing are dealt with in print news through news coverage of criminal matters, the HIV/AIDS pandemic or allusions to perceived Western decadence.[23] No endorsement of LGBT rights is permitted.

Radio and TV programs are similarly banned from expressing support for LGBT rights, but homosexuality and cross-dressing can be discussed as long as the negative attitudes and biases are reinforced. A call-in TV show may feature a discussion about the immorality or "illness" of homosexuality, or, as in the case of Mirel Radoi, coverage may focus on a celebrity, in this case a Romanian-born soccer player, implying, as a false insult, that another soccer player was gay.

The government does not allow public movie theaters to exist, and permission to hold film festivals is rarely granted, but censored versions of films can be legally purchased in many retail stores. LGBT themes are generally one of the themes that is edited out of the movie. Customs agents keep a list of films or TV shows that are not allowed to be brought into the kingdom.

Government regulation of the Internet generally falls under the Royal Decrees On Anti-Cyber Crime (2007). Article 6 prohibits creating, distributing or accessing online content or webpages that the government deems to be pornographic or in violation of religious values or public morals or is a threat to public health, safety or order.[24]

The Saudi government has frequently blocked Internet users in the kingdom from accessing web pages or other online content that express support for LGBT rights.[25] The restrictions on the Internet extent to blogs, social media and video upload webpages.

In 2010, a twenty-seven-year-old Saudi man was charged with homosexuality and impersonating a police officer when he posted a comical video of himself online, where he discusses popular culture, shows off his chest hair and flirts with the camera man. He was sentenced to a year in prison, with 1,000 lashes, and ordered to pay a fine of 5,000 rials (US $1,333).[26]

Clubs and associations

Clubs, charities and political associations require permission from the government to exist, which will not be given to any organization that supports LGBT rights or even seeks to act as a social club for the LGBT community.

Only the Green Party of Saudi Arabia has publicly expressed support for LGBT rights and called for greater public openness about sexual orientation and gender identity issues. However, this is an illegal underground political party that cannot lawfully function within the kingdom and this group is slowly being shut down.

Living conditions

The criminal penalties against homosexuality and cross-dressing are regularly and strictly enforced against Saudi citizens as well as expatriates working in the kingdom. Public discussion of homosexuality and cross-dressing is tolerated by the government as long as the discussion reinforces traditional attitudes and mores.

Gender identity

Some Saudi women will dress up as men, in order to circumvent the restrictions that women face, e.g., the ban on driving or the sex-segregated public establishments.,[27] but when they are caught, they are punished as strictly with the same penalties as the LGBT receive. The Saudi government views cross-dressing and any sort of transgenderism as being prohibited under Islamic jurisprudence, and is therefore illegal.[28] Criminal sanctions for cross-dressing tend to be the same for homosexuality, i.e. torture, whippings, chemical castrations, fines, imprisonment, capital punishment, and, for foreigners, deportation.

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 a LGBT sibling or relative in order to restore the family's honor and esteem within the community. These vigilante "honor killings" are also directed at women who have sex outside of wedlock or are the victim of a rape.


By law, all Saudi citizens who are infected with HIV or AIDS are 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.[29] Yet, ignorance, fear and prejudice are 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.[30] Hospitals and schools are often reluctant to distribute government information about the disease because of strong taboos and the stigma attached to how the virus can be spread.[31] For example, condoms are legal, but until recently, they were rarely available anywhere other than certain hospitals or medical supply stores.


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.[32]


In June 2006, the Ministry of Health publicly admitted that more than 10,000 Saudi citizens were either infected with HIV or had AIDS.[33] 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.[34] 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.[33] 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.[35] 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.[36] In 2007, a government-funded[37] organization, the 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 Human Rights Watch for allegedly undermining human rights and global efforts to fight the pandemic.[38]

Foreigners and HIV/AIDS

Foreigners who are applying for a work visa 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 upon arrival at a government accredited lab. To be issued their first work permit, they are also required to perform the test again before the renewal of a residency or work 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.[39]

Summary table

Same-sex sexual activity Penalty: Prison sentences of several months to life, fines and/or whipping/flogging, chemical castration, torture, vigilante execution or death can be sentenced on first conviction. A second conviction automatically merits immediate execution. Vigilante executions are also common.
Equal age of consent
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Discrimination is encouraged, enforced and heavily applied to the LGBT community.
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Discrimination is encouraged, enforced and heavily applied to the LGBT community.
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Discrimination is encouraged, enforced and heavily applied to the LGBT community.
Same-sex marriage
Recognition of same-sex couples
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples
Joint adoption by same-sex couples
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military
Right to change legal gender Transgenderism and cross-dressing are associated with homosexuality and are penalized the same as homosexuality (see punishments above)
Access to IVF for lesbians
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples
MSMs allowed to donate blood

See also


  1. Saudi scholar says sex abusers should undergo chemical castration to avoid rapes| 03/26/2014| Asian News International
  2. 2005: A gay couple in Saudi Arabia| |March 13th, 2011
  3. Archived 2 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. "Saudi Laws Encyclopedia". Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  5. "Keyan Keihani, A Brief History of Male Homosexuality in the Qur'an, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Arab-Islamic Culture". Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  6. "Segregation of sexes: Hai'a chief stands by his comment". Saudi Gazette. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  7. "Sodomylaws.Org". Sodomylaws.Org - link is dead, domain does not exist. Retrieved 1 August 2010.
  8. "Sodomylaws.Org". Sodomylaws.Org - link is dead, domain does not exist. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  9. "Justice Served in Al-Suhaimi Case". 4 January 2006. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  10. Brian Whitaker (9 April 2005). "Saudis' tough line on gays | World news". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  11. "Busloads of Illegals Rounded Up in Riyadh Crime Swoop". 9 April 2005. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  12. 1 2 "15 held on bootlegging, gay prostitution charges". 11 August 2008. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  13. "Sodomylaws.Org". Sodomylaws.Org - link is dead, domain does not exist. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  14. "Saudi prince found guilty of murdering servant in hotel". BBC. 19 October 2010.
  15. Stewart, Colin (6 June 2012). "Saudi Arabia: 260 arrests for homosexuality in 1 year". 76 CRIMES.
  16. Zavis, Alexandra (15 September 2010). "Gay Saudi diplomat seeking asylum says 'they will kill me openly'". Los Angeles Times.
  17. "Man executed and crucified for male rape, murder and theft in Saudi Arabia". Gay Star News.
  18. SIMPSON, JACK (25 July 2014). "Gay Saudi Arabian man sentenced to three years and 450 lashes for meeting men via Twitter". The Independent. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
  19. Littauer, Dan (27 May 2011). "Shake hands, kiss and makeup? Not in Saudi Arabian football!".
  20. Lee, Steve (8 October 2013). "Gulf Cooperation Countries to test, detect then ban gays from entering their countries". LGBT Weekly.
  21. HuffPost (16 April 2012). "Saudi Arabia Bans Gays And Tom Boys From Schools". The Huffington Post.
  22. "Human Rights Watch World Report 2001: Saudi Arabia: Human Rights Developments". 11 October 1999. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  23. "CREDO Action". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  24. "Saudi Arabia: Anti-Cyber crime Law (promulgated by Royal Decree No. M/17 in 8 Rabi'I 1428 (March 26, 2007))" (PDF). WIPO. 26 March 2007. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  25. New Page 1 Archived 16 April 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  26. "Saudi Arabia: 1,000 lashes for YouTube video". GlobalVoices. 17 March 2010. Retrieved 22 Sep 2014.
  27. "Life | Cross-dressing in Saudi Arabia?". 14 May 2008. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  28. "GenderNews Posting of Sept 28". Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  29. "AIDS Patients to Receive Free Treatment in Govt Hospitals". 3 December 2006. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  30. "POZ – POZ Magazine – – Newsfeed : Reporting HIV-Related Discrimination in Saudi Arabia". 2 January 2008. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  31. "'Aids, What Aids?'". 7 August 2005. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  32. "AEGiS-AP: AIDS Cases In Saudi Arabia Increases To 7,808 From 6,787". 24 November 2004. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  33. 1 2 Fattah, Hassan M. (8 August 2006). "Saudi Arabia Begins to Face Hidden AIDS Problem – New York Times". Saudi Arabia: Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  34. "Editorial: Battle Against Prejudice". 30 December 2006. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  35. "Survey Provides Insight Into AIDS Awareness Among Youth". 6 January 2007. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  36. "Search – Global Edition – The New York Times". International Herald Tribune. 29 March 2009. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  37. "2008 Human Rights Report: Saudi Arabia". United States State Department. 25 February 2009. Archived from the original on 25 March 2011. Retrieved 2011-03-25.
  38. "News | Human Rights Watch". Retrieved 10 July 2010.
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