IDAHOT 2016: ARTICLE 19 Spotlight on the Middle East and North Africa

IDAHOT 2016: ARTICLE 19 Spotlight on the Middle East and North Africa - Protection

Rainbow coloured balloons are released into the sky as several hundred LGBT activists hold a rally in central St. Petersburg to mark the International Day Against Homophobia. The rally's organisers had police permission and a promise to tighten security. In the event only a small number of homophobes turned up to protest at the rally.

What is IDAHOT?

May 17 is International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia: a worldwide celebration of sexual and gender diversities.

IDAHOT is an annual landmark to draw attention to the alarming situation faced by lesbian, gay, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people and all those who do not conform to majority sexual and gender norms. The date of May 17th was chosen to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

May 17 is now celebrated in more than 130 countries, including 37 countries where same-sex acts are illegal, mobilisations which unite millions of people in support of the universality of human rights, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

#IDAHOT2016 Spotlight on the Middle East and North Afria


On 24 April 2016, 11 men were sentenced to prison terms between 3 and 12 years on charges of ‘debauchery’, and charged with ‘abuse of a communications network’ (i.e. the Internet) having been arrested in Cairo in September 2015.

Since 2013, the police has been increasing monitoring and surveillance of LGBT people via internet applications, frequently setting up fake accounts to entrap them.

The men were also subjected to anal examinations, a practice amounting to torture, purportedly to determine their sexuality. The ‘information’ obtained from these examinations was not used in court, as the examining physicians acknowledged that there is no medical basis for the exam.[1]


Law 10 of 1961 on Combating Prostitution, criminalises ‘debauchery’: a judgement in 1975 led to this term being interpreted to mean men having sex with men, even without exchanging money. This law is now used to target gay men in Egypt.[2]


Hamid (pseudonym), who identifies as gay, was arrested in Iran and imprisoned for having a “feminine look”. He had to undergo therapy and was subjected to sexual assault through anal examinations to ‘verify his sexuality’ and determine whether he had partaken in sodomy. When this was established, Hamid was given with two options: being charged and sentenced for his “crimes” or sexual reassignment surgery which would be in part sponsored by the state. Hamid opted for sexual reassignment, and fled the country when released on bail to avoid the procedure.

In Iran, any non-heterosexual sexual orientation is either criminalised or considered to be an illness, often accompanied by a diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder” and approached with medical treatments including sex reassignment surgery.[3] These procedures and surgeries are linked to systemic coercion and lack of informed consent, and numerous reports have suggested that gender reassignment surgeries are undertaken with haste and often not fully completed, risking lives without any access to legal recourse.

Most websites linked to sexual health, gender identity and other LGBTQ issues are censored in Iran, creating a lack of access to crucial information, and making the decision-making process for the individual even more difficult, further reducing the potential for genuine informed consent to medical procedures such as sex reassignment.


The Iranian Penal Code (Articles 233-240) and 1926 Penal Code criminalise ‘sodomy’, which is punishable by death, if it the act is proven in accordance with Islamic Shari’a rules.[4] Sex reassignment operations are legal in Iran according to a fatwa (religious ruling) pronounced by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, in 1987.


Vigilantes arrested a group of men, working as security guards and building caretakers, in a southern suburb of Beirut, accusing them of sodomy. Officials claimed they were a ‘homosexual cell’, seemingly choosing the word ‘cell’ to draw a comparison with terrorism, and imply that the mean were in conspiracy.


Article 534, which prohibits sexual relations that ‘contradict the laws of nature.’ However, the legal status of LGBT persons in Lebanon is not clear, as Article 534 has been dismissed by a number Lebanese judges since 2009 as invalid as the law does not provide an interpretation of what is considered ‘unnatural’.


Ramy Ayari is a prominent LGBT activist who caused controversy on social media in September 2015 for posting a photo of himself kissing another man. On 29 April 2016, Ayari was beaten and kicked in the face by off-duty police officers in a homophobic attack outside the ‘Wax’ nightclub in Gammarth, a suburb of Tunis.


Article 230 of the Tunisian Penal Code criminalises gay sex or “sodomy”, carrying sentences of up to three years.


On 10 December 2015, six university students in Kairouan between the ages of 18 and 19 were sentenced to three years in prison, and five years subsequent banishment from Kairouan, on charges of ‘‘homosexual acts”. It is also understood that all six were subjected to an anal examination.

One of the students received an extra six months for “violations of good morality” for possession of a video on his computer, which breached Article 226 of Tunisia’s 1913 Penal Code.

The appeal court reduced the sentence imposed to one month of jail, with a fine, and lifted the five-year ban on entering the central city of Kairouan, but all of the sentenced persons have said that they were subject to human rights abuses and violation such as humiliation, beating and forced anal examinations.


Article 230 of the Tunisian Penal Code criminalises gay sex or “sodomy”, carrying sentences of up to three years.

Banishment is a penalty provided for in Articles 5 and 22 of the Criminal Code: Article 22 of the Criminal Code is intended to protect the residents of a location from social contact with a convicted individual and can last up to twenty years.


[3] Ibid