State-sponsored homophobia, a report published by ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association) in May 2011, contains a comprehensive list of countries which criminalize gay sex (80 in total, 7 of which have a death penalty: Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Sudan, Mauritania and parts of Nigeria). For ILGA's map of gay rights (or the lack of it) in the world, click here.

Friday, 24 February 2012

'Putin' it right - Political games people play

Nikolai Alekseev picketing against the gay propaganda law

In about a week's time, on 29 of this month, there will be the third and final reading of a law which, if passed, will outlaw the 'propaganda of homosexuality' in St. Petersburg. To be more precise, the law will prosecute the promotion of homosexuality, transsexuality and paedophilia to minors. Yes, as always, we're in good company and our reactionary friends never cease to pronounce in one breath the word 'gay' and 'paedophile' for the sake of causing hatred and murking the waters for the ill-informed. Suffice it to say that homosexuality involves consent, whereas paedophilia most definitely does not... by definition.

What 'propaganda' means is not quite clear but it seems it will make a prosecutable offense any reference to gayness in media, books, movies or any other public display of it... in sum, it's going to be a gagging order flying in the face of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The law carries fines as well and it's already been enacted once before on 11th of January, last month -  brave lgbt activist  Nikolai Alekseev and two 'accomplices' were fined 2,000 roubles each for holding a placard and a rainbow banner outside Arkhangelsk Regional Children’s Library. The parameters of the 'gay propaganda law' (as it's becoming known) are vague and might persecute anything from displaying a rainbow flag to wearing a dodgy Lady Gaga t-shirt, so declare yourself a little monster at your own peril. I'm guessing a pride march would be out of the question too (not that being punched in the face by a neo-nazi, while conniving policemen look on is much fun anyway, as human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell regrettably experienced during the Moscow Pride of 2007).

St. Petersburg would be the fourth region after Ryazan, Arkhangelsk, and Kostroma, to pass this law, and if this happen, a law at a federal level will be more and more likely as suggested by Human Rights Watch. So why this late regurgitation of a distant if somewhat more raucous and feisty relative of the 'English Section 28'? Nikolai seems to point to the dwindling consensus being suffered by Putin's ruling party 'United Russia' and an attempt to divert the attention from the real issues. To the massive protest of tens of thousands of Russians taking to the streets, last December, to declare their outrage at an alleged electoral fraud which may have been the reason for Putin's party getting the majority in the parliamentary elections, the Russian Prime Minister has responded with a rally in a Moscow stadium, on Thursday 23rd, dishing out cheap lines meant to stoke nationalistic sentiment and consolidate consensus:
"I want to ask you - and I want you to give me an unambiguous response, please answer with a simple short word - yes - do we love Russia?"

While Putin tries to put right its power base by pointing the finger on some of the most vulnerable in Russian's society, we can only scream our outrage to the four corners of the world hoping that the madness will stop and people will see sense. Please sign the All Out petition asking St. Petersburg's governor to veto the bill, on pain of avoiding the city as a tourist destination.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Indonesia, the largest archiepelago in the world

(photo by Karen Liao, Common Language China)

With an estimated total of 17,508 islands, Indonesia is the largest archiepelago in the world; with a population of around 238 million people it is also the fourth most populous country in the world. And to add record on record, the country is also host to the biggest Muslim population on the planet. Although Indonesia is broadly considered a moderate Muslim country and religious freedom is enshrined in the country's constitution, there is apparently a trend towards adopting laws inspired by Sharia at a local level. In addition to this there is one province, Aceh, on the island of Sumatra, which is totally governed by Sharia law.

Aceh became the theatre of a most vile violation of human rights in 2007 when a gay couple had their lodgings stormed into and was verbally abused and beaten by its neighbours who then proceeded to call the police to get them arrested. Once at the police station the nightmare reached higher levels when thy were submitted to torture at the hands of the very law enforcement officers.

In March 2010, an lgbt conference organized by ILGA Asia in Surabaya, East Java, had to be cancelled following threats from Islamic fundamelist groups coordinated by the Islamic Defenders Front. These protests apparently led to the Indonesian police denying permission for the conference, rather than safeguarding basic civil liberties and protecting the delegates' right to freedom of assembly and safety from harm. The hotel where the lgbt delegates were originally supposed to stay reneged on their word, following threats from the fundamentalists and a second hotel where the conference was moved to had the lobby invaded by protesters shouting abuse and threatening violence (see photo above). After fearing for their lives the delegates had to leave the hotel in small groups so as to avoid detection and stay in the city as tourists waiting for their flight back.

The Islamic Defenders Front hit the headlines again in September 2010 on the occasion of a gay film festival taking place in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. It wasn't the first time the festival had been organized, but this time the increased publicity was possibly at the root of the unwanted attention, i.e. homophobic abuse and threats of burning down the venues where the films were being screened, had the festival not be cancelled. Some foreign cultural centres like the French and Japanese ones bowed to pressure and halted further screenings, whereas the German Goethe Institute apparently expressed the intention to go ahead with the schedule.

That an otherwise moderate Muslim country should be run by a group of Muslim hardliners who seem to call the shots and decide which cultural or social events should take place is a disgrace. These people should be treated like the thugs that they are for disrupting what may be controversial (in their view) but otherwise completely legitimate events. Police should have the obligation to safeguard organizers and public and secure the normal running of events and not be complicit with protesters/radical groups as was apparently the case in the protest against the lgbt conference earlier in the year (where policemen were seen conversing amicably with protesters). Indonesia need to prove that it is indeed a secular country not run by Sharia law and whose democratic life is not swayed by radical Muslims.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Maldives... the sunny side of life?

A deft slogan no doubt for a website promoting tourism to the Maldives, but not everyone will have the priviledge to see the sunny side of it, especially those seven locals who got arrested in December of 2009 for suspected homosexuality activity. In Maldives homosexuality is a crime and apparently the sun doesn't shine favourably on everyone.  

The following is taken from the ILGA report of 2009 regarding countries where being gay is a crime persecuted by law:
'The Penal Code of Maldives does not regulate sexual conduct. It is instead regulated by uncodified Muslim Sharia law, which criminalises homosexual acts between both men and between women. For men the punishment is banishment for nine months to one year or a whipping of 10 to 30 strokes, while the punishment for women is house arrest for nine months to one year. There have been reports of women being sentenced to a whipping as well for lesbian acts.' 

I should add the Maldives was also one of the 57 UN countries which not only opposed a statement for the decriminalization of homosexuality presented to the UN General Assembly on 18 Dec 2008 on the intitiative of France, but signed an opposing statement (backed mainly by Muslim countries), which saw the issue as mainly an internal affair and the legitimization of homosexuality as leading to deplorable acts such as paedophilia (the old rotten chestnut).

Seychelles, the otherwordly archipelago

In what some tourism literature define as the 'otherwordly archipelago' on account of the 115 islands' beautiful sandy beaches and crystal waters, not to mention the luxurious forests, homosexuality is persecutable by law according to section 151 of the Criminal Code.
'Transgressors' are liable to imprisonment for 14 years.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Kenya, land of safaris... and witch-hunts

      (photo by Picture Taker 2, Flickr)

Kenya is a renowned destination for people who want to go on a safari or soak the sun on its beaches, but it is also a country where consensual sexual relationships between men are illegal. There are penalties of up to 14 years in prison for 'transgressors'. Like in many other countries in Africa and elsewhere around the world, this is a legacy of the British empire which around 1700 introduced the so-called Sodomy Laws in its colonies.

The news of a real gay marriage celebrated in London in October of 2009 between two gay Kenyan nationals had already caused quite a stir back home and now the unfounded news of a 'gay marriage' occurring on the self-same Kenyan soil on 12th of February ruffled quite a few religionists' feathers. Apparently it all stemmed from a rumour started in a barber's shop (if it wasn't for the tragic events ensuing, it'd be something to laugh at) which was then reported in the media giving it the seal of authenticity, as it were.

But given that the country does not even acknowlege any fundamental gay rights and in fact considers gays on a par with criminals, how could a 'gay marriage' be taking place? It is basically a misnomer, it's the fabric of dreams. According to the country's laws, gays are not even allowed a sexual/amorous identity, let alone the formal legal institution of a 'marriage'. The media should have been more savvy and demistify the event for what it was... a witch-hunt, a gay purge, a gay pogrom.

Religionists doing what they do best started to glow with religious fervour at the news and, spraying self-righteousness and hatred from every pore, mounted a crusade against the evil infidels. A muslim chief and a christian bishop joined arms to instigate a nazi-like purge of gays from their community called 'Operation Gays Out'. One must hand it to the hate-mongers that the naming of the operation is somewhat polite compared to the branding of gays by dictator mugabe (and yes the small letter is not a spelling mistake) as pigs and dogs, in fact the nice man said gays are 'worse than pigs and dogs'.

Read the letter sent to the Kenyan authorities by Human Rights Watch Scott Lee for a more detailed account of events. And I don't know about you, but personally I won't be going to a Kenyan safari or beach resort any time soon.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Appeal for the common 'wealth', bar none

Here follows an email I sent to the Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations, Kamalesh Sharma, regarding the human rights abuses in some of the organization's member states.
You can write to him at

'Dear Secretary-General,

I am writing to you as I am concerned about the flouting of human rights in some Commonwealth states.

Uganda is currently under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, its Parliament discussing a law which amounts to a proper which-hunt of gay Ugandans. But unfortunately Uganda is not the main culprit, many are the Commonwealth countries where homosexuality is deemed to be a crime and prosecutable by law: Rwanda, Jamaica, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, to name but a few.

I understand the Commonwealth is an interogovernmental organization of member-states which operate within a framework of common values and goals, inlcluding democracy, good governance, individual liberty and human rights. None of these values can be honoured if a section of the population is left out on the grounds of highly questionable 'moral' or 'religious' grounds. In fact, to even use the words 'moral' or 'religious' in such a context is sheer heresy. Much more appropriate terms are: ignorance, phobia, violence.

The situation of gay Jamaican is dire, ditto for gay Ugandans. Rwanda seems to be embarking, alongside other African states, on the same wretched course pointed at by Uganda.

I would hope - and I'm sure that a lot of people feel the same way - that as the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth you would honour the mission of your own organisation and stand for the 'common' wealth of all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, and make a statement denouncing the countries which infringe the very principles held dear by the Commonwealth of Nations.'

Friday, 25 December 2009

Homophobia Kills, don’t support it

Honorary British Consul John Terry is the latest victim of Jamaica’s deeply entrenched hatred towards gays. He was severely beaten and strangled in his flat on 9th September 2009. A handwritten note found on his bed read ‘Batty man’ and it added ‘this is what will happen to ALL gays'. But this is only one in a long string of brutal attacks against gay people on the Caribbean island. A leading lgbt activist, Brian Williamson, co-founder of Jamaican lgbt group J-FLAG died from multiple stab wounds in 2004. A mob was later seen celebrating around Williamson’s mutilated body, some chanting ‘Boom Bye Bye’, a song by Jamaican singer Buju Banton about shooting and burning gay men with acid. In 2005 a leading HIV activist Steve Harvey was abducted and killed. Most worryingly, many are the episodes of mass hysteria where entire groups of people abuse, chase and assault gay people, like the angry mob who chased a young man, Nokia Cowen, to his death off a pier in 2006 or the mob that disrupted the funeral service of a gay man attacking attendees believed to be gay with stones, knives and bottles in April of 2007. Earlier in the same year three gay men were stoned by a huge mob and forced to seek refuge in a pharmacy.

The violence is given free rein, when it is not effectively being fomented by an old colonial law (which makes homosexuals criminals who can be sentenced with up to 10 years in prison) and the institutional homophobia rife among politicians, the police, hospital staff and the leaders of ultra conservative Christian churches. The popular appeal of some reggae and dance hall singers advocating in their lyrics the shooting, maiming and burning of gay people does the rest (incidentally the notorious hate lyric, Boom Bye Bye, is still unashamedly broadcast on Youtube).

A collateral but not less sinister effect of this homophobic violence is the island’s high rate of HIV infection. It’s easy to see how gay people would be inclined to shun health institutions for fear of mistreatment and abuse.

International human rights organizations have described Jamaica as the most homophobic place in the world.

In March 2009 Jamaica's Prime Minister Bruce Golding declared:

We are not going to yield to the pressure, whether that pressure comes from individual organisations, individuals, whether that pressure comes from foreign governments or group of countries, to liberalise the law as it relates to buggery.

Action you can take:

Write an email/letter of protest to the Jamaican ambassador in your country.

Ask your MP, MEP or Congressman to write in protest to the Jamaican PM.

Ask your elected politicians to make sure your country/the European Union’s trade deals and aid are conditional on Jamaica’s repeal of anti-gay laws and that a firm commitment be made by the Jamaican authorities to protect the lgbt community from violence.

Boycott the island as a tourist destination and tell the Jamaican Tourist Board why you’re not going on holiday to the country.

Raise awareness and seek support among friends and family.

Flag Youtube’s videos entitled ‘Boom Bye Bye’ for containing material that promotes hatred and violence against gays.