A Saudi court has sentenced a Yemeni blogger to 10 months in prison, a fine equivalent to $2,700, and deportation to Yemen for a social media post supporting LGBTQ+ rights in Saudi Arabia, according to Human Rights Watch.
Mohamad al-Bokari, 29, was arrested in April for posting a video calling for equal rights. He had fled Yemen in June 2019 after his life was threatened by armed groups and individuals and has since been living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as an undocumented migrant.
Before al-Bokari’s trial, at which he was provided no legal representation, he was held in solitary confinement for six weeks in a cell with no windows or air-conditioning.
After his sentencing, he was placed in a shared cell with other inmates where he was verbally abused and called a “devil worshipper” who deserved the “death penalty,” according to a source at HRW. Officers also gave him a forced anal exam to seek “proof” that he was queer.
Al-Bokari was charged with violating public morality by promoting homosexuality online, and “imitating women."
His health declined rapidly after his sentencing. After being transferred to a hospital, al-Bokari, who suffers from a chronic heart condition, was given an electrocardiogram, a test that detects acute coronary injury. He was allegedly released without hearing the results of the test, and according to the HRW source, doctors denied that he had a heart condition and denied him medication altogether even though he was "on the verge of collapsing."
The source added the court claimed al-Bokari “confessed that he fled Yemen because he was ‘imitating women.’” However, HRW obtained evidence of the threats on his life via phone communications and social media messages.
Saudi Arabia has no written laws around sexual orientation or gender identity, but judges and courts often use an interpretation of Islamic law to punish people who commit what they consider “immoral” acts.
In cases like al-Bokari’s, HRW adds, judges and prosecutors often utilize the country’s anti-cybercrime law that criminalizes activity that infringes on “public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy."
The Arab Charter on Human Rights, of which Saudi Arabia is part, guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression in article 32.
“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, an LGBTQ+ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi Arabia should match rhetoric with reality and drop the case and the deportation against al-Bokari immediately.”