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Members of Congress criticize Saudi Arabia over LGBT rights

Apr 26, 2016
In The News

Washington Blade 

By: Michael K. Lavers

More than 30 members of Congress have signed a letter to Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. that expresses concern over the country’s LGBT rights record.

The April 22 letter to Prince Abdullah Al Saud — which gay New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney spearheaded — notes “the use of torture and capital punishment against the LGBTQ community.”

The letter highlights a task force “against sexual anomaly” that the Saudi government created “investigates and charges members of the LGBT community as though they were pedophiles.” It also notes reports that “citizens identifying themselves as LGBTQ on social media can be punished by flogging or even execution.”

“These reports are highly concerning,” reads the letter.

Out U.S. Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) signed the letter alongside Maloney. D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is also among the signatories.

Kingdom’s LGBT rights record ‘unacceptable’

Saudi Arabia is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

Oraz, a Saudi newspaper, reported last month that prosecutors in the city of Jiddah have proposed the death penalty for anyone who comes out online in the kingdom.

The State Department’s 2015 human rights report notes it is illegal for men to cross-dress or “behave like women” in Saudi Arabia.

The report notes that Saudi authorities arrested several people in Jiddah last June after they raided “two parties involving LGBTI individuals.” It also indicates the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — the so-called “religious police” that endorses Sharia law in the kingdom — fined an international school $25,000 last July for painting rainbows on its building that were described as “emblems of homosexuality.”

The State Department’s 2014 human rights report notes the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has also used undercover agents to target owners of social media accounts that distribute “pornographic content or served as social networking tools for LGBT persons in the kingdom.”

“No one — regardless of where they live — should be subject to torture or capital punishment because of who they are or who they love,” said Maloney, who co-chairs the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, in a press release that his office released on Monday. “The reports are horrifying, unacceptable and demand an immediate response from the United States.”

Freedom House Executive Vice President Daniel Calingaert echoed Maloney.

“Fundamental rights, including free expression and peaceful dissent, are routinely and severely suppressed in Saudi Arabia,” said Calingaert. “The human rights of LGBT people should be respected everywhere. They should not be singled out for discrimination, let alone face criminal charges and prosecution.”

Saudi Arabia key U.S. ally

The lawmakers sent their letter to Al Saud two days after President Obama met with King Salman in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

The Associated Press reported that Obama and King Salman discussed the Iran nuclear deal and the Syrian civil war during their meeting. The president and Secretary of State John Kerry attended a regional summit that focused on the so-called Islamic State and other topics on April 21.

Saudi Arabia remains a key U.S. ally, especially in the fight against the so-called Islamic State. The kingdom received $10,000 from the United States last year for military education and training.

State Department spokesperson John Kirby told reporters earlier this year in response to the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shiite cleric who was an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia’s Sunni ruling family, that the U.S. continues to urge the kingdom to “respect” human rights. Critics contend the Obama administration has not done enough to challenge the Saudi government over the issue.

“We hope Saudi Ambassador Prince Abdullah Al Saud will carefully consider how the continued persecution of Saudi’s LGBT community will negatively impact the bilateral relationship,” said Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First in the press release that Maloney’s office released.