Yemeni Blogger’s Call for LGBTQ Equality Gets Him Convicted in Saudi Arabia

FILE PHOTO: G20 leaders summit in Osaka
President Donald Trump speaks with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in June 2019 less than a year after the brutal slaying of ex-pat journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an American resident, whose killing the CIA concluded was ordered by the crown prince.
Reuters/ Kevin Lamarque

A court in Saudi Arabia has convicted a 29-year-old Yemeni blogger living in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, for a Twitter post in which he called for equal rights for everyone — including the LGBTQ community.

According to Human Rights Watch, Mohamad al-Bokari, convicted July 27, faces 10 months in prison, a fine equal to roughly $2,700, and deportation to Yemen.

HRW reported that al-Bokari, who was arrested on April 8, underwent trial without the aid of an attorney.

Al-Bokari left Yemen in June 2019 after armed groups there threatened his life. He has lived in Saudi Arabia as an undocumented immigrant since that time.

“Saudi Arabia’s public relations campaigns tout the kingdom’s ‘progress,’ but the court’s jail sentence for peaceful speech and then deportation to Yemen where the defendant’s life is at risk shows how hollow these claims are,” Rasha Younes, HRW’s LGBTQ researcher, said in a written statement. “Saudi Arabia should match rhetoric with reality and drop the case and the deportation against al-Bokari immediately.”

Based on a source close to al-Bokari, HRW described the heinous conditions under which the blogger has lived since his arrest.

Prison officials subjected him to an anal exam, which HRW said is a universally discredited approach to determining if a criminal suspect has engaged in gay sex and can be pushed to the point of torture. Al-Bokari has been beaten and verbally abused by his captors, and, according to HRW’s source, spent six weeks prior to his trial in solitary confinement in a fetid cell with no windows, air-conditioning, or proper ventilation.

After his conviction, al-Bokari was brought to a cell housing other inmates, who called him a “devil worshipper” and said he deserves the death penalty.

Al-Bokari suffers from a chronic heart condition, HRW reported, and when his health began to deteriorate in prison, he was taken to a hospital and administered an electrocardiogram. He was never given the results of that exam, and the doctor who treated him claimed he has no heart condition, even though HRW’s source said he was “on the verge of collapsing.”

Saudi Arabia subscribes to the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression, but public discussion of LGBTG issues, according to HRW, are typically prosecuted under a cybercrime that bans online activity that compromises “public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy.”

Similarly, the Saudi state has no written ban on same-gender sexual relations but typically applies Islamic law forbidding sexual conduct outside of marriage and other “immoral” behavior.

HRW’s source said that al-Bokari told him that the Saudi court claimed he had fled Yemen because he was “imitating women.” But according to social media communications that HRW reviewed, both armed groups and individuals in that country had threatened al-Bokari’s life.

HRW noted that the Saudi government’s intention of deporting al-Bokari to Yemen after he serves his jail time flies in the face of international norms against returning immigrants to their homeland if they face a risk of torture or worse.

The United States, beyond its close ties to the regime in Riyadh and specifically to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is in no good position to call the Saudis out on this point, given the Trump administration’s increasing hostility to any asylum claims made by immigrants here.

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