Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises sex between men
  • Criminalises sex between women
  • Criminalises the gender identity/expression of trans people
  • Death penalty
Sharia Law

Saudi Arabia operates an uncodified criminal code based on Sharia law. Under this framework, sex outside marriage is illegal. As same-sex marriage is not permitted, same-sex intimacy is criminalised. The punishment varies depending on the circumstances: married men and interfaith sex are punished with the death penalty, while non-married men are punished with flogging. Sharia law principles underpinning the criminal law in Saudi Arabia also impose strict dress codes that impact on the gender expression of transgender people.



According to the Human Rights Watch World Report: “Judges use principles of uncodified Islamic law to sanction people suspected of committing sexual relations outside marriage, including adultery, extramarital and homosexual sex. If individuals are engaging in such relationships online, judges and prosecutors utilize vague provisions of the country’s anti-cybercrime law that criminalize online activity impinging on ‘public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy.’”

The US Department of State Human Rights Report on Saudi Arabia stated that under the interpretation of Sharia in the country, consensual same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death or flogging, depending on the perceived seriousness of the offence, and the law makes it illegal for men “to behave like women” or wear women’s clothes, and vice versa.


In July, it was reported that a gay man, who allegedly tried to arrange a date via Twitter, was sentenced to 450 lashes and three years imprisonment.

This followed another report in April which found that 35 LGBT individuals had been arrested following a “gay party”.


A report from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada suggested that, due to the nature of law enforcement in the country, information on the number of successful prosecutions is “almost non-existent”. The report also included contradictory views on whether the death penalty is actively applied for individuals found guilty of same-sex sexual relations. The report detailed a number of individual instances of prosecution. A large number of arrests have been reported in recent years.

Statements by Public Figures


In May, a leading Saudi cleric stated that: “even though homosexuality is considered a sin in all the Semitic holy books, it does not require any punishment in this world”, adding that punishment would come after death. He further stated that: “by condemning homosexuals to death they are committing a graver sin than homosexuality itself.”


Few individual statements could readily be found from Saudi Arabian Public officials. The Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) of Saudi Arabia reportedly objected to the adoption of a ‘.gay’ domain name as it would “promote homosexuality”.

Persecution and Discrimination


In January, a group of young men were arrested after they appeared in a video of what the police described as a “gay wedding scene”.


The US Department of State Human Rights Report on Saudi Arabia indicated that LGBT organisations do not operate openly and there were no gay rights advocacy events of any kind. Further, there were reports of “official societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, and health care.” Reporting of incidents of abuse were limited by societal stigma and intimidation.

In March, two transgender Pakistanis, 35-year-old Amna 26-year-old Meeno, were tortured to death by police after a raid whereby 35 transgender people were arrested.


A report by Defend Democracy highlights the strength of anti-gay attitudes currently disseminated to students in Saudi textbooks. One tenth grade textbook, the article suggests, discusses the best method of executing LGBT individuals: “by fire, stoning, or being thrown from a high place”.

Legislative News


During its third UPR cycle, there were no recommendations made as regards the decriminalisation of homosexuality.


Saudi Arabia objected to a UN Human Rights Council resolution that condemned the use of torture by law enforcement. The objection was based on the fact that the resolution referenced a report by the Special Rapporteur on torture which included 65 references to sexual orientation, which Saudi Arabia claimed was being used to promote issues beyond the eradication of torture.


During its second UPR cycle, there were no recommendations made concerning the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

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