Oraz, a Saudi newspaper, reported on Saturday that prosecutors in the city of Jiddah have proposed the penalty in response to dozens of cases they have prosecuted over the last six months. These include 35 people who received prison sentences for sodomy.
Okaz reported that Jiddah authorities have prosecuted 50 cases in which men allegedly dressed as women. A doctor who lives in the port city on the Red Sea has been released on bail after officials arrested him for allegedly raising an LGBT Pride flag over his home.
A gay Saudi man who lives outside the kingdom told the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview the enhanced penalties that Jiddah prosecutors have proposed would apply to the entire country. The man, who operates a Twitter account that publishes LGBT-specific news and other information from Saudi Arabia, said the proposal has caused fear among LGBT people in the country.
Chanan Weissman, a spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, told the Blade on Tuesday that the U.S. is “aware of these reports, but cannot verify their accuracy.”
“We continue to gather more information,” he said.
Social media users in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have begun to use the hashtag “You will not terrorize me. I’m gay” on Twitter to express their opposition to the proposed penalty.
The idea of Homophobic should be erased from anyone's state of mind. Love is love #لن_ترهبوني_انا_مثلي
— A (@emisonsouls) March 28, 2016
Saudi Arabia is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual activity remains punishable by death.
The State Department’s 2014 human rights report notes it is illegal for men “to behave like women” or cross-dress. It also says the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — the so-called “religious police” that enforces Sharia law in Saudi Arabia — uses undercover agents to target owners of social media accounts that distribute “pornographic content or served as social networking tools for LGBT persons in the kingdom.”
The man behind the Saudi LGBT Twitter account told the Blade on Monday that agents with the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice use people they arrest as “bait” to entrap LGBT people who are online.
“It’s happened so many times,” he said.
The State Department report notes that police and agents with the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice arrested 35 gay men — many of whom were wearing women’s clothing — at a Jiddah party in 2014. A judge in the holy city of Medina in the same year sentenced a man to three years in prison and 450 lashes for “soliciting sex with other men” on Twitter.
Media reports indicate that authorities in the city of Taif arrested a man late last year at a shopping mall who was wearing an abaya, a black cloak that women in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries wear.
The man behind the Saudi LGBT Twitter page told the Blade that the sentences that judges impose upon those found guilty of LGBT-specific offenses are “completely random.”
“It depends upon the judge,” he said.
Death penalty proposal highlights country’s ‘horrific reality’
Two Saudi YouTube personalities last month posted a video in which they called for the execution of gay people after police reportedly raided a same-sex wedding in the kingdom’s capital of Riyadh. YouTube removed the clip after it sparked widespread outrage.
“We thought that this was a big step forward,” a source in Saudi Arabia told the Washington Blade on Sunday.
The source, who asked the Blade not to publish their name because of safety concerns, said reports that Jiddah authorities are seeking the death penalty against those who come out online highlights “the horrific reality of the situation” in the country.
“We can’t do a thing about it, but try to make some noise so activists from other countries would hear about it and talk to their politicians to pressure Saudi to change its policies,” said the source. “The Internet is the only safe haven to LGBT individuals in the Middle East. If this is taken from us, we won’t have anywhere else to go.”
The man behind the Saudi LGBT Twitter account agreed.
“It’s their only outlet,” he told the Blade. “There’s no other actual space for LGBT people to meet outside the Internet.”
U.S. has not done ‘enough’ to challenge human rights record
Saudi Arabia remains a key U.S. ally, especially in the fight against the so-called Islamic State.
The U.S. gives more than $1 billion in aid to the kingdom each year.
The State Department told the Blade earlier this year that it continues to urge Saudi Arabia to “respect” human rights. Then-spokesperson Jen Psaki in July 2014 declined to say whether Secretary of State John Kerry raised the kingdom’s LGBT rights record during his meeting with then-Saudi King Abdullah in Jiddah.
“I don’t think they’ve done nearly enough,” said the man behind the Saudi LGBT Twitter account.
“I want to see an actual punishment against people who preach hatred,” he added. “I want them to know they cannot leave the country.”
Weissman on Tuesday reiterated the State Department’s previous statements that “LGBTI rights are human rights.”
“No one should be harmed or have their basic human rights denied because of their sexual orientation,” he told the Blade. “The United States will continue to raise the plight of targeted LGBTI individuals around the world and work to protect their basic human rights.”
“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,” added Weissman.