Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Gay Rights

Homosexuality is punishable by law in the UAE. This derives from the prohibition on sodomy in Islamic law and from cultural taboos. Article 177 of the Penal Code of Dubai stipulates prison sentences of up to ten years for engaging in sodomy. Similarly, Article 80 of the Abu Dhabi Penal Code makes sodomy punishable with imprisonment for up to 14 years. The UAE government is, however, less aggressive than others in the region in cracking down on homosexuals. Death penalties are never handed down in such cases, and most foreigners who are prosecuted for homosexuality can expect to be deported, probably after a relatively short prison sentence.

In one well-publicized case in Abu Dhabi in 2005, 26 men were arrested at a hotel and charged by police with being involved in cross-dressing and homosexual behaviour. The men were all sentenced later to five-year prison sentences. There were also unconfirmed reports (denied by the government) that the men were subjected to some kind of hormone treatment in an attempt to change their behaviour.

In another disturbing case in 2007, a sixteen-year-old French-Swiss boy who was kidnapped and raped, was first treated by the police as a suspect. The possibility that he might be charged with sodomy under Article 177 prompted his family to leave the country. But later, after unprecedented international media interest in the story, the boy was not charged with any crime, and he returned to testify in court against his rapists. The government responded to extensive attention to the emirate’s homosexuality laws by emphasizing the conservative nature of UAE society.