76 Countries Where Anti-Gay Laws Are As Bad As Or Worse Than Russia’s
It is illegal to be gay in 76 countries. Punishments range from fines to short and lifelong prison sentences, hard labor, forced psychiatric treatment, banishment, whippings, and death by public stoning. The upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi have put Russia’s “gay propaganda” law and the international community on an unavoidable collision course, but whatever happens in February is only the beginning of a broader (and much more complicated) conversation about the status of LGBT rights around the world.
In May 2013, the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) released a 110-page study on the status of the international LGBT community with country-by-country profiles of relevant laws. The report is updated annually and was used throughout this post along with other sources when possible.
1. Afghanistan — Imprisonment.
During Taliban rule, same-sex activity in Afghanistan could lead to the death penalty. The situation has improved, relatively speaking, as a conviction for “pederasty” — used to describe all homosexual relations, regardless of the persons’ ages — results in a “long” prison sentence.
2. Algeria — Fines and a jail sentence of up to three years.
Article 338, the Algeria law that directly addresses homosexuality, states: “Anyone guilty of a homosexual act is punishable with imprisonment of between 2 months and two years, and with a fine of 500 to 2000 Algerian dinars [roughly $6 to $24]. If one of the participants is below 18 years old, the punishment for the older person can be raised to 3 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 dinars [roughly $124].”
3. Angola — Fine and jail. Forced labor camp for habitual offenders.
Though Angola ratified a new constitution in 2010 that addresses the equal rights of all citizens, its penal code still contains vaguely worded language against people who practice “acts against nature,” which in practice include homosexuality and cross-dressing.
4. Antigua and Barbuda — Up to 15 years in prison.
“Buggery,” a common term for same-sex relations in the Caribbean, comes with a possible 15-year jail sentence in Antigua and Barbuda. The lesser charge of “serious indecency” applies to sexual acts other than sodomy, punishable by up to five years in prison by consenting adults.
5. Bangladesh — Fine and up to 10 years in prison.
According to Section 377 in Bangladesh’s penal code: “Whoever voluntary has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with man, woman, or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
6. Barbados — Up to life in prison.
According to Barbados’ Sexual Offenses Act of 1992, “Any person who commits buggery is guilty of an offense and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life.” The lesser, related charge “serious indecency” can result in up to 10 years in prison.
7. Belize — 10 years in prison.
Having sex with a person of the same sex is considered an “unnatural crime” in Belize and comes with a 10-year prison sentence.
8. Bhutan — Between one month and one year in jail.
For both men and women in Bhutan, “unnatural sex” and “sexual conduct that is against the order of nature” is a petty misdemeanor that calls for a jail sentence of at least one month.
9. Brunei — Fine and imprisonment of up to 10 years.
“Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine,” according to Chapter 22 of Brunei’s penal code, last revised in 2001.
10. Botswana — A jail sentence of up to five years.
Though Botswana banned anti-gay employment discrimination as of 2010, laws against “unnatural offenses” and “indecent practices” remain on the books. As in many countries, it is unclear how often these laws are actually enforced. In 2011, Pono Moatlhodi, a member of Botswana’s National Assembly, reportedly said, “I don’t like those gay people and will never tolerate them. They are demonic and evil.”
11. Burundi — Fine and up to two years in jail.
According to a 2011 report from the U.S. State Department, that year “no one was arrested or prosecuted” under anti-gay law; that said, they held that, “The government neither supported nor hindered local LGBT organizations…” But changing the law is, of course, only one aspect of LGBT equality. As a trans woman told the Thomas Reuters Foundation in May 2013, “In Burundi, if they know you are gay, they kill you. If they see you on the street, they stone you. They come and shoot you in the night.”
12. Cameroon — Fine and up to five years in jail.
In July 2013, Eric Ohena Lembembe, a prominent LGBT activist and journalist, was found tortured and murdered at his home. The tragic news crystallized the impact of state-sanctioned homophobia on Cameroon’s LGBT community; according to one of his former colleagues, arrests are frequent.
13. Comoros — Fine and a jail sentence of up to five years.
Comoros, an island nation in East Africa, bans same-sex activity, which it terms “improper” and “unnatural.”
14. Dominica — Up to 25 years in prison and a possible psychiatric treatment.
In addition to jail sentences for “gross indecency” (maximum 10 years) and “buggery” violations (maximum 25), the island of Dominca could also require “ex-gay” therapy. As noted in Section 16 of the country’s penal code: “Any person who attempts to commit the offense of buggery, or is guilty of an assault with the intent to commit the same is guilty of an offense and liable to imprisonment for four years and, if the Court thinks it, the Court may order that the convicted person be admitted to the psychiatric hospital for treatment.”
15. Egypt — Not technically illegal to be gay, but…
…you can be arrested for breaking the country’s laws on sexual conduct. Police raids and mass arrests are not uncommon. For example, in 2012, a group of men were arrested and charged with “practicing debauchery.”
16. Eritrea — A jail sentence of up to three years.
Since 1957, Eritrea’s penal code has banned “unnatural carnal offenses” with a jail sentence of between 10 days and three years.
17. Ethiopia — A year in prison or “in grave cases, rigorous imprisonment” of up to 10 years.
Article 630 of Ethiopia’s penal code describes the circumstances of “grave cases” as such:
“The punishment shall be simple imprisonment for not less than one year, or, in grave cases, rigorous imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, where the criminal: a) takes unfair advantage of the material or mental distress of another or of the authority he exercises over another by virtue of his position, office or capacity as guardian, tutor, protector, teacher, master or employer, or by virtue of any other like relationship, to cause such other person to perform or to submit to such an act; or b) makes a profession of such activities within the meaning of the law.”
18. Gambia — Up to 14 years in prison.
Gambia’s anti-gay law, which was amended in 2005, makes it illegal to have “carnal knowledge of [another] person through the anus or the mouth.” The law also bans “any other homosexual act.”
19. Ghana — A prison term between five and 25 years.
In 2011, Paul Evans Aidoo, a government minister, called on Ghana’s intelligence services to track down and arrest all gays and lesbians. “All efforts are being made to get rid of these people in society,” said Aidoo on a popular radio station in Ghana’s capital, Accra. “Once they have been arrested, they will be brought before the law.”
Prominent religious figures in Ghana have condemned homosexuality as recently as June 2013. The country’s criminal code, amended in 2003, considers “unnatural carnal knowledge” to be a first-degree felony.
20. Grenada — Up to 10 years in prison.
In Grenada in 2011, a 41-year-old man was arrested after being caught having sex with a 17-year-old man, even though 16 is the age of consent in Grenada and the sex was reportedly consensual. The penalty for the seldom-enforced anti-sodomy law, called an “unnatural connexion” [sic], is 10 years in prison.
21. Guinea — Fine and a jail sentence of between six months and three years.
As is the case in many countries where same-sex activity is banned, in Guinea, “If the act was committed with a minor under 21 years of age, the maximum penalty must be pronounced.”
22. Guyana — Two years to life in prison.
In Guyana, same-sex activity between women is legal, but for men: “Any male person, who in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission, or procures or attempts to procure the commission, by any male person, of an act of gross indecency with any other male person shall be guilty of misdemeanor and liable to imprisonment for two years.” Also, “Everyone who commits buggery, either with a human being or with any other living creature, shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for life.”
23. Jamaica — Up to 10 years in prison.
Jamaican law terms “buggery” an “abominable” crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Just a few weeks ago, a teenager was brutally murdered after being caught cross-dressing at a street party in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The tragedy once again underscores how state-sanctioned homophobia is only part of the hostility LGBT people face across the world.
24. Iran — Death penalty.
Even with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who infamously declared during a 2007 appearance at Columbia University, “In Iran, we don’t have gays”) no longer in office, Iran remains one of the most anti-gay nations on earth. Men convicted of sodomy — defined under the Islamic Penal Code of 1991 as “sexual intercourse with a male” — face death, the method of which is determined by a Shariah (Islamic law) judge. A man just kissing another man is punishable by “60 lashes.”
25. Kenya — Between 14 and 21 years in prison.
The wording of Kenya’s penal code regarding “carnal knowledge” is fairly extensive. One of the three sections that address same-sex activity states:
“Any male person who, whether in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with another male person, or procures another male person to commit any act of gross indecency with him, or attempts to procure the commission of any such act by any male person with himself or with another male person, whether in public or private, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for five years.”
26. Kirbati — Up to 14 years in prison.
In Kiribati, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, same-sex relations between women are legal but similar relationships between men are considered a felony. “Buggery” is punished by up to 14 years; “gross indecency between males” up to five.
27. Kuwait — Up to seven years in jail.
In Kuwait, “Consensual intercourse between men of full age (from the age of 21) shall be punishable with a term of imprisonment of up to seven years.”
28. Lebanon — Up to one year in prison.
In late July 2012, 36 men were arrested during a police raid in Beirut and forced to undergo intrusive examinations in order to “prove” whether they had engaged in anal sex, which can result into a year of jail time. That said, the Lebanese Psychiatric Society’s declaration this July that homosexuality was not an illness was met with optimism.
29. Liberia — Up to one year in jail.
In Liberia, “voluntary sodomy” is defined as “deviate sexual intercourse” between human beings who are not (living as) husband and wife, that consists of contact between penis and anus, mouth and penis, or mouth and vulva.” And it’s a first-degree misdemeanor.
30. Libya — Up to five years of jail time.
The country’s anti-gay law was last amended in 1973. Recent political upheaval has made the status of LGBT life all the more precarious. In November 2012, an extremist group claiming to be a part of Libya’s Ministry of the Interior raided a private party in a suburb outside of Tripoli and arrested 12 gay men who were then threatened with mutilation and possible execution.
31. Malawi — Up to 14 years in prison and possible corporal punishment.
While same-sex relations between men have long been illegal, the same between women were criminalized in 2011, punishable by up to five years in prison. After taking office in 2012, President Joyce Banda called for an end to these laws. Facing steep opposition, she’s since distanced herself from this historic stance, though has enforced a moratorium on prosecution.
32. Malaysia — Up to 20 years in prison and possibly whipping.
Malaysia’s penal code notes: “Whoever voluntarily commits carnal intercourse against the order of nature shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to twenty years, and shall also be liable to whipping.” Further, several states have enacted Shariah, criminalizing homosexual acts for both men and women, the penalties of which (imprisonment, lashings) can be applied in addition.
33. Maldives — House arrest for women; banishment or whippings for men.
The Maldives follow Shariah, which criminalizes homosexual acts. For women, a conviction results in house arrest for nine months to a year; for men, a conviction results in banishment for nine months to a year or a whipping of up to 30 strokes.
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