Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises LGBT people
  • Criminalises sexual activity between males
  • Criminalises sexual activity between females
  • Criminalises the gender expression of trans people
  • Imposes the death penalty

Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under Sharia law, under which all sex outside of marriage, include same-sex sexual activity, is criminalised. The maximum penalty under the law is the death penalty. Both men and women are criminalised under this law. In addition to potentially being captured by laws that criminalise same-sex activity, trans people may also face prosecution for failing to adhere to strict dress codes imposed by Sharia law.

The provision has its origins in Islamic law, with Saudi Arabia operating an uncodified criminal code based upon Sharia principles.

There is substantial evidence of the law being enforced in recent years, with LGBT people being frequently subject to arrest. Some of those arrested have been executed by authorities. Due to the opacity of Saudi Arabia law enforcement, it is not possible to provide accurate estimates of the number of arrests, prosecutions, and executions.

There have been consistent reports of discrimination and violence being committed against LGBT people in recent years, including murder, assault, harassment, and the denial of basic rights and services. Societal stigma and the absence of LGBT organisations limits reporting of discrimination.



In August, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice arrested a young man perceived as homosexual for ”exposing himself to indecency on  Twitter”.


In June, Commerce Ministry officials seized rainbow-coloured toys and children’s clothing from shops in Riyadh and claimed that the items “contradict the Islamic faith and public morals and promote homosexual colours targeting the younger generation.”

In October, gay social media personality Suhail al-Jameel was released from prison after being detained for three years on public decency charges for posting a picture of himself on Twitter shirtless and wearing swim shorts.


The US Department of State report found that, although the death penalty is a possibility for same-sex sexual activity, prosecutors did not seek to impose this punishment during the year.

In April, a Yemeni blogger living in Saudi Arabia was arrested for advocating for equality for LGBT people. In July he was sentenced to ten months’ imprisonment and a fine, followed by deportation, under ‘public indecency’ laws. While in detention he was subjected to solitary confinement, beatings, and torture.


In April, Saudi Arabia announced it had executed 37 men. Reports suggest that five of those were executed for same-sex sexual activity.

In October, it was reported that a gay social media user had been arrested for posting a picture of himself in shorts at the beach online.


In January, police arrested several young men they alleged appeared in a ‘gay wedding scene’ on video. It is not known under what law they were arrested, and whether they were prosecuted.


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 … 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.’”


It was reported by a Saudi-based news outlet that as many as 35 cases had been brought against gay men for ‘obscene behaviour’ in the previous six months, as well as a number for ‘cross dressing’. This followed reports that prosecutors were pushing for more severe penalties, including the death penalty, for LGBT people.


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

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.


A report alleged there were 260 arrests for same-sex sexual activity in one year, highlighting the likelihood of underreporting in international media due to the difficulty in accessing accurate data.


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.

Discrimination and Violence


In March, Eden Knight, a transgender woman killed herself after she said her parents lured her back home in Saudi Arabia and pressured her to detransition. Eden was previously studying in the US. She said she struggled to continue transitioning as her family searched her belongings and monitored her closely, calling her “a freak” and “an abomination”.


The US Department of State report found that due to societal conventions, LGBT organisations did not operate openly, and there were no LGBT advocacy events of any kind. There were reports of official and societal discrimination, physical violence, and harassment in employment, housing, education, and health care, but stigma and intimidation limited reports. Both local newspapers and clerics publicly condemned same-sex sexual activity.


Two Saudi journalists fled to Australia and sought asylum after they were reportedly outed by Saudi state security in retaliation for contact with foreign media.


In March, two transgender Pakistanis were tortured to death by police after a raid in which 35 transgender people were arrested.


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”.

Related Countries


Oman criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. The gender expression of trans people is also criminalised. Sentences include a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment.


Yemen criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of death by stoning.

United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. The gender expression of trans people is also criminalised. Sentences include a maximum penalty of death.

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