A blogger has been sent to jail in Saudi Arabia simply for posting a video supporting human rights for all, including LGBTQ equality, reports Human Rights Watch.
After a trial in which he was not provided counsel, Mohamad al-Bokari, a Yemeni living in Riyadh, was sentenced on 20 July to 10 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 Saudi Riyals (US$2,700). When he has served his sentence, he will be deported back to Yemen.
The authorities arrested al-Bokari, 29, on April 8 for posting a video on social media calling for equal rights, including for gay people.
He was charged with violating public morality by promoting homosexuality online, and “imitating women.” These charges show that the court decision is based on discriminatory accusations against al-Bokari based on his perceived sexual orientation and gender expression, said Human Rights Watch.
Al-Bokari fled Yemen in June 2019 after armed groups threatened to kill him and he has since been living in Saudi Arabia as an undocumented migrant. Deporting him to Yemen on release is likely to put his life at risk.
After his arrest in April, a source in contact with al-Bokari revealed that security officers subjected him to a forced anal exam, an internationally discredited practice used to seek “proof” of homosexual conduct, that can amount to torture. They also allegedly continued to beat him and verbally abuse him in detention.
“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,” said Rasha Younes, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi Arabia should match rhetoric with reality and drop the case and the deportation against al-Bokari immediately.”
The source told Human Rights Watch that after his sentencing, al-Bokari was returned to a shared cell with other prisoners who have verbally abused him, including by calling him a “devil worshipper” who “deserves the death penalty.”
Since al-Bokari, who suffers from a chronic heart condition, was sentenced, his health had also rapidly deteriorated and he is said to be “on the verge of collapsing.”
Saudi authorities regularly pursue charges against human rights activists based on their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, in violation of international human rights obligations, said Human Rights Watch.
Saudi Arabia is one of five countries, including Iran, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria, that impose the death penalty for consensual same-sex sexual acts.