(See Below for Case Law, Evidence of Public Attitudes, NGOs that Assist or Advocate on LGBTI issues, and Country of Origin LGBTI Specialists)
Article 520 of the penal code of 1949, prohibits homosexual relations, i.e. "carnal relations are against the order of nature", and provides for at least three-years imprisonment. Section 520 of the penal code criminalizes “bodily lust against the laws of nature”, which, according to Islamic law, includes homosexuality.
The status of same sex activity between females in Syria is unclear. Lesbianism is less acknowledged in Syrian society due to the greater restrictions faced by women by virtue of their gender, regardless of their sexuality.
In January 2011 a Gay Syrian Kurd asylum seeker who claimed he would be murdered if deported to Syria won his three-year battle to stay in Scotland. See here for details.
PUBLIC ATTITUDES AND/OR STATE'S CAPACITY TO PROTECT
According to the Consular Officer, Embassy of Syria, Washington DC, ‘Those individuals wishing to practice homosexuality in Syria must do so in secrecy or face possible punishment, although charges are "rarely" laid.’
Websites such as Gay Middle East (GME) and Globalgayz receive complaints and anecdotes about how Syrian Secret Service often used sexual orientation to harass and manipulate members of the LGBT Syrian community. GME also reports that some people who have reported to their website have been targeted by the authorities and sometimes disappear altogether.
As well as the law criminalising homosexuality, LGBT people in Syria face religious and social homophobia. Sami Hamwi (pseudonym), the Syrian editor of GayMiddleEast.com states, ‘I know gay men who have been shot and tortured, while humiliation includes being tied down to be urinated on by family members.’ Personally, ‘I can’t ever come out, not because of my fear of my family, but because of my fear for them. I come from a conservative city; the society might cut off my family for having a gay son.’ Being forced to marry is a fear of many homosexuals should they reveal their identity.
There are medical centres where HIV testing can be done, and HIV/AIDS awareness is being integrated into secondary school curricula. However fear of being exposed and arrested prevents many gay men from seeking or obtaining information on safer sex practice. The August 2005 comments of the Syrian Deputy Minister of Religious Endowments, Muhammad Abd alSatter al-Sayyid on the subject of AIDS are indicative of the authorities’ official view of gay men: ‘If only we had stoned everyone who had committed this abomination – wouldn’t it have been better than letting these diseases infect others, spreading to millions around the world?’
GME reports that the situation seems to have marginally improved between 2007-2009. Gays and lesbians were still occasionally harassed and arrested but ‘the majority, if they behaved very cautiously and did not come out or demand rights were left alone with minor harassment.’ From some perspectives there is a rising openness throughout the Arab gay community and the freedom of gay men to meet each other, particularly in known cruising areas (areas people go to for casual sex) does not appear too restricted provided they are discreet. Increased access to the internet has enabled LGBTI members to better communicate and network. But at the same time the Syrian Secret Police has also increased their presence on the web and tried to block LGBT related sites.
In 2010, however, Syrian authorities started a campaign against gay people by raiding parks, Hammams (public steam baths) and private parties and detaining many for weeks and sometimes months. More than four different private gay parties were raided over five weeks between March and April 2010, arresting more than 25 men on their last raid. Indictments have been officially submitted against them; most of the arrested guys are charged with ‘having a homosexual act.’
Since the uprising…
According to Hamwi, (in June 2011), when the unrest started, LGBT people were afraid that Islamists might take over if the regime was overthrown. ‘If Islamists take over, we might be in a life-threatening situation. If the regime wins, the situation will force us to hide for years because of what they might do to LGBT people. Things have changed since March this year. Although most of us have adapted themselves to the current situation, we still are afraid to be stopped by secret police and be humiliated.’
It has been very dangerous to form any kind of gathering in Syria since the spark of the protests last March. Gay Syrians had avoided cruising and gathering for a few weeks before they started to become more aware of the best places and times for such actions. Some pro-regime LGBT people have been threatening anti-regime gay people to expose them to authorities and deliver their names to the secret police. They have been using online gay dating sites to contact people and threaten them.
A popular privately-owned Syrian newspaper with over 50,000 daily copies in circulation published a homophobic article in February 2012. It claims that lesbians and gays are proliferating due to the Syrian uprising. The last sentence in the article describes homosexuals as ‘social germs’ who ‘have infested our society and took the opportunity to strike once the first signs of weakness appeared’.
NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOs)
*We have contacted this organization but we have not yet received a response from them.
Syrian Human Rights Committee
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN SPECIALISTS
Judge Bruce J. Einhorn (ret.)
Email: bjejudgeaol [dot] com
Judge Bruce J. Einhorn (ret.) was the primary draftsperson of the modern US law on asylum. He has worked to educate judges and conservativescholars on the maltreatment of gays and has done extensive research on Egypt,Saudi Arabia (e.g., gays and Shiites there), Syria, Yemen, and Jordan. In 2011 he lectured at Oxford University on the topic of anti -feministactions from Islamic extremists, not all of whom are Muslim. Judge Einhorn is a member of the American Bar AssociationNational Commission. He is Co-Chair of the ADL Latino-Jewish Roundtable of Greater Los Angeles, that covers issues such as immigration reform and the fight against nativism in the US.
Researched by: Nicola West
Email: nikkiwest5 [at] hotmail [dot] co [dot] uk (nikkiwest5[at]hotmail.co.uk)