Call them the Dirty Dozen: They are the 11 countries and one militant extremist political jurisdiction where the death penalty applies to the "crime" of loving someone of the same sex.
Extremist religiosity of primarily the fundamentialist varieties of both Islam and Christianity drive enough legislators, religious leaders, and laypeople in these societies to keep their "kill the gays" laws and cultural practices alive. Execution methods and motivations in these 12 countries include beheadings and so-called honor killings, the latter committed against LGBT people by none other than their own family members.
While data collection is difficult because of the opaqueness of prosecutions in these countries, it's clear that Iran and Saudi Arabia are the two governments most guilty of killing people for being gay. However, the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has likely executed more people for being gay or for being accused of being gay than any recognized state has done in recent years.
International LGBT rights advocate and blogger Colin Stewart has been monitoring the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people around the world for several years. His Erasing 76 Crimes blog keeps a tally of nations that criminalize gay and trans people for their mere existence. Stewart said he sees both positive and negative trends surrounding acceptance and oppression of LGBT people worldwide.
"From 2012 to the present, the situation has been fluid," Stewart told The Advocate, referencing the year he retired from a lifelong career in journalism to begin publishing Erasing 76 Crimes. He's hesitant to say things are clearly improving.
"[They're] possibly improving, with a modest reduction in the number of enforced anti-LGBT laws," Stewart said. "Mozambique repealed its law, as have tiny Palau, Lesotho, and São Tomé and Príncipe. Malawi has a moratorium on enforcement of its law during court deliberations on whether it is constitutional."
As he further notes, Uganda's 2014 "jail the gays" law, once billed as a compromise away from an earlier-proposed "kill the gays" law, lasted only a few months before it was overturned.
The following list of countries around the world where you can be sentenced to death just for being LGBT was compiled with information from the U.S. Department of State, Erasing 76 Crimes, and the just-released 2016 edition of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association's annual survey, titled State Sponsored Homophobia 2016: A Wrld Survey of Sexual Orientation Laws: Criminalization, Protection and Recognition.
Let's begin with the most egregious.
WARNING: This article contains graphic photos that may disturb some readers.
Reports of public hangings of gay men before live audiences have long plagued the government of Iran and its image as medieval theocracy. But evidence of its Dark Ages outlook toward LGBT people in Iran need not be sought anywhere outside the government's own penal code.
As ILGA's 2016 report, released just last week, notes, Part 2, Article 117 of Iran's penal code says, "Sodomy [punishable by death] is proved by the testimony of four righteous men who might have observed it." Meanwhile, as Article 121 reads, "Punishment for Tafhiz (the rubbing of the thighs or buttocks) and the like committed by two men without entry, shall be hundred lashes for each of them."
America's good friend and strategic ally, the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is a serial killer of LGBT people. Although according to Erasing 76 Crimes, lashings and imprisonment are more common punishments, one year the kingdom beheaded three men for being gay.
A letter spearheaded by out New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney and signed by 33 of his peers forcefully asks the Saudi ambassador to end sting operations targeting LGBT people in the country, as well as reported incidents of torture and even capital punishment.
Sudan is one of four countries where the death penalty is on the books as punishment for gay sex. However, there are no confirmed reports of a death sentence being carried out for that "crime." South Sudan, which won independence from its Muslim-majority parent in 2011, does not have a death penalty for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Although it also has a law calling for the killing of people found to have had sexual relations with someone of the same sex, war-torn Yemen is not known to have carried out an officially sanctioned execution of a gay or trans person for being gay or trans. It's not known how many so-called honor killings have been committed against LGBT Yemenis by relatives.
As Erasing 76 Crimes reports, "traditionally, [the Yemeni antigay] death penalty is not enforced, but citizens have been imprisoned for their sexual orientation.”
While there is no national death penalty in Nigeria for being LGBT, no fewer than 12 of the country's northern provinces have codified the death penalty as punishment for gay sex. All of those have done so under the banner of Islam's Sharia Law. According to Erasing 76 Crimes, the BBC and others, despite at least 12 convictions under provincial laws, no government executions for the so-called crime of being gay or having gay sex have been carried out.
Somalia also lacks a national homophobic or transphobic death penalty law, yet still has provincially codified death penalties aimed squarely at LGBT people under the umbrella of Sharia.
Despite thousands of American service members' lives lost and tens of billions of dollars spent to help rebuild Afghan society with some level of democracy and respect for women's and other marginalized groups' human rights, Afghanistan's antigay sodomy law remains open to interpretation, depending on which version of Sharia law individual judges subscribe.
No official Afghan government executions for sodomy (generally defined as sexual relations between two people of the same sex) have been reported in Afghanistan in recent years. It is believed Taliban militants have committed murders of gay men and boys, as well as men and boys perceived to be gay.
A 90 percent Muslim country, Pakistan's legal structure is a sometimes flimsy balance between Sharia Law and secular statutes where jurisprudence and jurisdictions are transitory and tribal. Pakistan's secular law calls for a two-year prison sentence for homosexual acts. But the secular legal regime is often lawfully supplanted by tribal customs and Sharia Law.
Three years ago, a serial killer of gay men was lauded in the media for killing three gay men after having sex with them.
“I stand with [Muhammed] Ejaz and the courage he has showed to wipe these devils off from our holy land—Islam doesn’t approve of homosexuality so who are we to let these people live among us," a Lahore resident told the Global Post in 2013, referring to the paramedic who lured gay men into having sex and then killed them.
Militias execute LGBT people in Iraq, which is a rariety among Muslim-majority countries, because it has no law against homosexuality, per se. But as in many Muslim countries, honor killings of LGBT people also happen in Iraq.
The west African nation of Mauritania has a death-penalty provision on the books that allows for gay men to be stoned to death. Lesbian women can be imprisoned.
"Islamic State"-controlled territories of Iraq and Syria
Last year, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, cohosted a meeting where it was revealed that at least 30 people have been murdered by ISIS for being, or being perceived as, LGBT. Most of the would-be state's (the so-called Islamic State has never been recognized as such by anyone but itself) death sentences have been carried out by beheading or by throwing victims off of tall buildings. In the latter case, some victims who survived being thrown from rooftops were reportedly killed by stoning after they hit the ground. Lesbians and transgender people were also targeted for rape and murder.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE is most famous for its gleaming skyscrapers and its architecturally world-class cities, such as Dubai. Ultramodern physical appearances notwithstanding, Emirate society is founded on Sharia Law, which calls for individuals of sexual minorities to be executed for loving someone of the same sex.
A Final Note
Although there's no death penalty in Bangladesh for homosexuality, where gay sex is still illegal, it could be argued that the recent hackings to death of LGBT bloggers and journalists by Islamist extremists have established a defacto death penalty for being gay in Bangladesh. Human rights groups say the government's response to violent homophobic crimes like the murder of Xulhaz Manham has been anemic, creating a slippery slope toward an untenable reality for LGBT Bangladeshis.
According to Colin Stewart, there are plenty of other slippery slopes when it comes to countries that "only" oppress LGBT people and governments that simply fail to defend the basic human rights of their gender and sexual minority citizens.
"Russia imposed its law against 'promotion' of homosexuality," says Stewart. "Similar proposals are under consideration in neighboring countries. India's Supreme Court reinstated that nation's antigay law, dating from the time of the British Empire. The law had been overturned by a lower court, and the Supreme Court is now pondering whether it made a mistake by rescuing the law from oblivion."