Amid Unrest, LGBT Communities in the Middle East Face Persecution

While tragic geopolitical events unfold in the Middle East, new reports on the treatment of LGBT people in the region are further cause for distress.

A 24-year-old man was sentenced to three years imprisonment and 450 lashes in Saudi Arabia for “promoting the vice and practice of homosexuality.” He was convicted for attempting to meet other gay men via Twitter.  The man, thus far unnamed by media sources, will have the draconian sentence of 450 lashes spread out over 15 separate sessions.

Saudi Arabia is one of the few remaining countries where those convicted under anti-sodomy laws may face the death penalty. Saudi courts base all rulings on Sharia Islamic law. In this case the religious police, the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, conducted an online sting and handed down the inhumane sentence. Since the man was convicted of so-called “promotion of homosexuality,” not sodomy itself, he did not face the death penalty.

The conviction preceded a wave of state action against LGBT persons across the Middle East. Some reports indicate that two men were publicly executed earlier this month on charges of sodomy in Shiraz, Iran, although it is difficult to get clear information from that country.

In Lebanon, 27 men were arrested in an early morning raid for engaging in sexual relations that “contradict the laws of nature.” Authorities staged the operation in a public bath. According to initial reports, the men may be prosecuted under lesser public indecency charges. Five days later, additional arrests occurred two other Lebanese cities, targeting another public bath and a private home. News of the raids suggest a step backward for Lebanon’s LGBT community, who claimed a victory in February when a court ruling contested prejudicial definitions of gender identity and challenged the view of homosexuality as unnatural.

The lesser “public indecency” charges the Lebanese men may face are at one end of the spectrum of judicially sanctioned homophobia; the death penalty is at the other. Adding rape charges to sodomy charges is another homophobic judicial tool.

While the Middle East is embroiled in a number of conflicts, we must not forget the lives and dignity of the LGBT people living there. They deserve our support and solidarity.


Published on August 22, 2014


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