By Paul Canning
Saudi Arabia has been described as a “gay heaven” because strict gender segregation supports what's called a "flourishing" underground gay sex scene, but for those who fall foul of official prohibitions, through being discovered or being entrapped, jail and flogging awaits.
The Philippines Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) are looking into cases of 24 Filipino men who were allegedly framed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on charges of being prostitutes.
The men's case only came to light after OWWA was notified by Philippine Ryan Ferrer. Ferer claims that he was blackmailed by his employer into extending his stay in the Kingdom. He says that his employer had him jailed for six months for prostitution and he met the other men in the prison. On release he was stripped of all pay and benefits.
In 2009 72 Philippine men were arrested and lashed after a private party in Riyadh was raided.
Last May the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Manila issued a memorandum ordering local recruitment agencies to screen Philippine applicants for sexual orientation.
“Officials of recruitment agencies… are strongly advised to screen (applicants) thoroughly. The accreditation of recruitment agencies found to have failed to observe this advisory will be permanently terminated,” the memorandum read.About three million Asian workers go abroad on contractual jobs each year, mainly in the Gulf and Southeast Asian countries - the Philippines is believed to send 3000 workers every day. However, they can face various abuses including low pay, excessive workload and sexual harassment after spending exorbitant amount of money to find jobs. Asian nations who supply Labour to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have been criticised for their lack of support for their nationals.
One Philippine gay man living in Saudi Arabia told of how:
“A gay OFW [overseas worker] may willingly accompany a local, especially a good-looking one, to have sex.” Situations like these eventually turns into rape and gay victims are being forced to perform sexual acts against his will. Refusing, especially to a local, could lead to the nightmare of being arrested and publicly shamed as the story could be reversed with the local being tempted by the OFW gay.
In April a British nurse claimed to have been arrested and beaten in Riyadh by the mutawwa'in (mutaween religious police) of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice after they sent him fake text messages masquerading as a friend and leading him into a trap. His passport was taken away from him and he was forced to sign a confession in Arabic which he did not understand then kept in jail for six months. He was released following diplomatic negotiations with the UKAside from arrest and public shame, OFW gays could be put behind bars and have a prison sentence with 100 or more lashes. Gay OFWs could also end up getting sexually assaulted by the same policemen who have arrested them.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) suggested that his arrest may have been a reprisal for the arrest and exposure of Saudi Prince saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser al Saud for murdering his male lover/servant in London last year. The Saudi authorities allegedly were angered when British judges declined their demands to keep the Prince’s sexuality secret.
Diplomatic concerns may explain why LGBT issues are not discussed in the Foreign Office's 2010 human rights report on Saudi Arabia. And why in its 2010 human rights report on Saudi Arabia the US State Department wrote that: "Sexual orientation could constitute the basis for harassment, blackmail, or other actions. No such cases were reported." It did not list the treatment of LGBT as a 'significant human rights problem'.
Last year a 27 year old man was charged with homosexuality and impersonating a police officer when he posted a comical video of himself on-line. In it 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).
Last month Sabq reported that a Saudi gay man had been entrapped by the religious police after he wrote his mobile number on the walls of a local Mosque’s toilet, asking to meet for gay sex.
Sami Al Ali, an activist from the region, told the Gay Middle East (GME) website that “unfortunately such cases are quite common in the Gulf States and in particular, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” He added that “many men and women, and in particular gay men, are blackmailed for sex and money”, making their life very difficult if not intolerable.
GME said that in some cases it is the agents of the mutaween themselves blackmailing gay men or just attempting to entrap them. The number of people falling victim to the mutaween, they say, is thought to be very significant but information, understandably, is very difficult to gather
GME said that homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia and those found guilty may be subject to the death penalty, imprisonment and flogging under Shari’a law. The punishment for engaging in homosexual acts in Saudi Arabia is the death penalty for married persons, while unmarried persons would be subject to a minimum of 100 lashes plus and imprisonment. Under Shari’a law for there to be a conviction there must be four trustworthy male witnesses to the act, or the accused to confess four times, in order to obtain a conviction, making execution extremely rare. Saudi law is not strictly codified and its implementation, in either a lenient or severe manner, depends mostly on religious Sunni judges and scholars, as well as royal decrees (and thus subject to extreme variability). Conviction and severity of punishments depends on the social class, religion and citizenship of the accused, whereby non-western migrant workers receive usually harsher treatment than upper class Saudi citizens.
The Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington D.C. has responded to the criticism of human rights organisations by implying that the 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. This followed extensive media reports last September of a Saudi Arabian diplomat in Los Angeles applying for American asylum on the grounds that he was gay.
GME says that entrapment happens across the Arab world, where the secret or religious police infiltrate internet chat rooms and gay dating websites. Draconian anti gay legislation support such scams, they say.
Last January two gay men were arrested in Dubai. According to court documents one of the defendants was entrapped by a 'cybercrimes investigator' in an online chat room. One of the men was sentenced to three years imprisonment.
A source in Kuwait (via Gay Middle East) told us that online entrapment by the state in common in countries around the Gulf. "In Oman, for example, they use it to blackmail foreigners into extending their work contracts," he said.
This situation is replicated elsewhere in the Middle East.
In Iran, human rights groups have long reported on the monitoring of internet sites such as Manjam for the purpose of entrapment.
In Egypt, where police have systematically arrested and tortured suspected homosexuals, vice squads have logged on to chat rooms posing as gay men. Forming friendships under a false identity, the police set up an expected first date, then meet their "suspects" with a brutal arrest.
"I was waiting for that guy I chatted with on the Internet a couple of days before that day, right inHT: Gay Middle East
front of McDonald's [in] Heliopolis. … It was almost 1p.m., when I found four big guys surrounding me," one victim of police brutality told Human Rights Watch after being set up on a false date.