|Jennifer Josef, ILGA-ASIA|
|Jennifer Josef, ILGA-ASIA|
According to The SUN, Stephen Comiskey, a 36-year-old nurse was arrested and beaten in Saudi Arabia by the Mutaween (religious police) 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 imprisoned for six months.
Stephen told The SUN that he was forced to sign a confession in Arabic which he did not understand and was kept in jail without knowing what would be his fate, fearing the worse – capital punishment.
Mr Comiskey, who worked at the King Fahad National Guard Hospital in Riyadh, was finally allowed to fly home this week after diplomatic negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. The case has been under media blackout until today.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) suggested this may have been a reprisal for the arrest and exposure of Saudi Prince saud Abdulaziz bin Nasser al Saud who for murdering his male lover/servant last year. The Saudi authorities allegedly were angered when British judges declined their demands to keep the Prince’s sexuality secret.
This case was handled in a highly unusual manner: most Western expats trapped by the Mutaween are usually deported, so it seems very likely it was a kind of "diplomatic" message or retaliation as the FCO claims.
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.
Much more common is harassment by the hands of the religious police, the mutaween of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. If the mutaween learn that a person is homosexual or engaging in homosexual activity they are likely to be subject to lifelong harassment (including sexual) and blackmail. This often leaves the person extremely vulnerable and subject to a life of fear, misery and in some cases leads to suicide.
The number of people falling victim to the mutaween is thought to be very significant but information, understandably, is very difficult to gather Sami Al Ali, an activist from the region, commented 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 notes that in some cases it is the agents of the mutaween themselves blackmailing gay men or just attempting to entrap them. This happens across the Arab world, where the Secret Police/CID/Religious Police infiltrate chat rooms and gay dating sites. Such incidents highlight the vulnerability of any Arab citizen, and in particular LGBT ones, to such scams as they are indirectly supported by draconian anti gay legislation.
Saudi Arabia is a deeply gender segregated country which therefore exacerbates sexual tensions that have been, for centuries, channelled discretely into same sex acts. Such acts are common place but publicly disavowed and frowned upon. Many men, for example, who engage in such acts are not necessarily primarily “gay” in their object choice, nor are they likely to ever identify as such. Publicly being identified as a homosexual is seen as deeply offensive, nicknamed Makhaneeth or Luti a faggot, effeminate, sinner and even scum.
GME calls upon the Saudi authorities to seriously consider decriminalising homosexuality which would help solve this pressing problem as well end the persecution of all sexual minorities.