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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
34. Mauritania — Death penalty by public stoning.
Mauritania is one of four African countries where same-sex relations between men can result in the death penalty. According to Article 308, “Any adult Muslim man who commits an indecent act or an act against nature with an individual of his sex will face the penalty of death by public stoning.”
35. Mauritius — Up to five years in jail for men; same-sex relations between women are legal.
Despite its wording, Mauritius’ law regarding sodomy and bestiality apparently only applies to men: “Any person who is guilty of the crime of sodomy or bestiality shall be liable to penal servitude for a term not exceeding 5 years.” There has been recent debate about repealing the law altogether.
37. Mozambique — Probation or six month to three years of forced labor in an agricultural colony.
Mozambique inherited its anti-sodomy law from the colonial influence of Portugal: “Articles 70 and 71(4°) provide for the imposition of security measures on people who habitually practice acts against nature. The security measures may include: a bond of good behavior, being put on probation for a certain period, or even internment in a workhouse or agricultural colony (from 6 months to 3 years).”
38. Myanmar — Fine and up to 10 years in prison.
According to Myanmar’s penal code, “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animals shall be punished with transportation for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall be liable to fine.”
39. Namibia — Undetermined prison sentence.
According to the ILGA’s report on Namibia: “Sodomy remains a crime in Nambia according to the Roman-Dutch common-law, which was imposed by the South Africans. Common-law is a legal tradition based mainly on precedent court verdicts [which is] why there is no codified sodomy provision in Namibia.”
40. Nauru — Hard labor up to 14 years.
Section 208 of Nauru’s criminal code states: “Any person who: (1) Has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature; or (2) Has carnal knowledge of an animal; or (3) Permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature; is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment with hard labour for fourteen years.”
41. Nigeria — Death penalty for men and whipping and/or imprisonment for women in 12 northern Nigerian states. Up to 14 years in jail in the rest of the country.
Several states in the northern part of Nigeria operate under Shariah, which rules homosexuality as punishable by death for men and whipping and/or imprisonment for women. Throughout the rest of the country, anti-gay laws carry a possible 14-year jail sentence (or seven for “attempt”). As of June 2013, it is also illegal for Nigerians to join “gay clubs or organizations,” punishable by up to 10 years.
42. Oman — Imprisonment from six months to three years.
In Oman: “Anyone who commits erotic acts with a person of the same sex shall be sentenced to imprisonment from six months to three years. The suspects of homosexual or lesbian intercourse shall be prosecuted without a prior complaint, if the act results in a public scandal. The suspects of lesbian intercourse among ascendants, descendants or sisters shall only be prosecuted upon a complaint from a relative or a relative by marriage forth-degree [sic] removed.”
43. Pakistan — Between two and 10 years in prison.
As noted in a 2012 New York Times profile on gay life in Pakistan, despite the country’s sodomy laws, “the reality is far more complex, more akin to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ than a state-sponsored witch hunt. For a long time, the state’s willful blindness has provided space enough for gays and lesbians. They socialize, organize, date and even live together as couples, though discreetly.”
44. Palau — Up to 10 years in prison.
On the South Pacific island of Palau, according to their National Penal Code: “Every person who shall unlawfully and voluntarily have any sexual relations of an unnatural manner with a member of the same or the other sex … shall be guilty of sodomy,” sodomy being any “abominable and detestable crime against nature.”
45. Papua New Guinea — Up to 14 years in prison.
In Papau New Guinea, it is an “unnatural offense” for a person to permit “a male person to sexually penetrate him or her against the order of nature,” and the penalty is imprisonment for up to 14 years. Men are also liable to a possible three years in prison for “indecent sexual practices between males.”
46. Qatar — Up to seven years in prison (and for Muslims, corporal punishment or death).
Qatar will host the World Cup in 2022 so, just as Russia has come under fire for its anti-gay laws due to the Winter Olympics, this Middle Eastern country is likely headed for controversy as well. For the time being, according to Qatar’s penal code, the penalty for gay sex is up to seven years in jail. The country’s Muslim population is also subject to Shariah, which punishes homosexual activity outside of marriage by death, and sexual acts by non-married people with flogging.
49. Saudi Arabia — Banishment, whipping, and death by public stoning.
According to the 2013 ILGA report, “There is no codifed Penal Law in Saudi-Arabia. Instead, the country applies strict Islamic Sharia law. According to the interpretation sodomy is criminalized. For a married man the penalty is death by stoning, while the penalty for an unmarried man is 100 blows of the whip as well as banishment for a year. For a non-Muslim, who commits sodomy with a Muslim, the penalty is death by stoning. Moreover are all sexual relations outside of marriage illegal in Saudi-Arabia according to the Sharia law, including sexual relations between women.”
50. Senegal — Fine and between one and five years of imprisonment.
President Obama visited Senegal in June 2013 and called the Supreme Court’s striking down the Defense of Marriage Act a “victory for American democracy” during a speech that urged African nations to end state-sanctioned homophobia. Senegalese President Macky Sall responded by saying that his country was not homophobic, but added, “We are not ready to decriminalize homosexuality.”
52. Sierra Leone — Life in prison.
In May 2013, Pride Equality and Dignity Association released the first long-term report on LGBT life in Sierra Leone. According to the study, which included 80 respondents, “99% had experienced at least one form of harassment and discrimination” because of their sexuality or gender expression. The country’s anti-gay law can result in life imprisonment for people convicted of “buggery” (a synonym for sodomy).
53. Singapore — Up to two years in jail; same-sex relations between women are legal.
In April 2013, the highest court in Singapore threw out a challenge to the country’s anti-sodomy law, saying it was a decision best left to the legislature. An LGBT activist in the country told AFP, “[The law] doesn’t just criminalise gay men. It justifies a wide range of abusive behaviours and institutionalises discrimination against LGBT people. It sends the wrong signal to the world that Singapore is a backward and regressive state.”
55. Somalia — Possible death penalty by stoning in southern parts of the country; elsewhere, a jail sentence of up to three years.
Throughout most of the country, sodomy is punishable by up to three years in jail. Parts of the south are governed by Shariah. According to The Advocate, a gay teenager was stoned to death by militant Islamists 50 miles outside of Somalia’s capital in March 2013. The village was forced to watch.
56. South Sudan — Fine and up to 10 years in jail.
Section 248 of the relatively new country’s penal code notes whoever “has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person and whoever allows any person to have such intercourse with him or her commits an offence, and upon conviction, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years and may also be liable to a fine.” It also specifies that penetration is sufficient enough to constitute a violation.
57. Sri Lanka — Fine and up to 10 years in prison.
In Sri Lanka, “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment that may extend to ten years and shall also be punished with fine…”
58. St. Kitts and Nevis — Up to 10 years in prison, possibly with hard labor.
The ILGA’s 2013 analysis of St. Kitts and Nevis’ “Offenses Against the Person Act” notes that, “The Revised Laws prescribe terms of imprisonment of up to ten years, with or without hard labor, upon conviction for engaging in anal sex, described as “the abominable crime of buggery.” Attempted “buggery” is sanctioned by up to four years imprisonment, with or without hard labor, as is “any indecent assault upon any male person.” The latter, which is in no way defined, is subject to arbitrary interpretation. It could potentially encompass any behavior perceived as a “homosexual advance.”
59. St. Lucia — Up to 10 years in prison.
In 2011, after three gay tourists visiting from the United States were robbed and assaulted during a trip to St. Lucia, the country’s Tourism Minister apologized and insisted that the attack, which the victims reportedly felt was a gay bashing, was “unacceptable behavior.” Even still, the country’s laws against “buggery” — between consenting parties — are less than comforting. A conviction can result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Sexual indecency is punishable for up to five.
60. St. Vincent and the Grenadines — Up to 10 years in prison.
In St. Vincent, “Any person, who in public or private, commits an act of gross indecency with another person of the same sex, or procures or attempts to procure another person of the same sex to commit an act of gross indecency with him or her, is guilty of an offense and liable to imprisonment for five years.” A “buggery” conviction can result in a 10-year prison sentence.
61. Sudan — Five years in prison, life imprisonment, flogging, and/or death penalty.
According to Sudanese law, “Any man who inserts his penis or its equivalent into a woman’s or a man’s anus or permitted another man to insert his penis or its equivalent in his anus is said to have committed Sodomy.” The first time a person is convicted under this law, he will be flogged with 100 lashes and potentially sent to prison sentenced to five years in prison; the second, 100 more lashes and a certain prison term, again up to five years. A third conviction can result in life in prison or the death penalty.
62. Swaziland — Fine and a jail sentence of up to two years.
Anti-sodomy laws dating from early 20th century colonialism are still on the books in Swaziland, with fines and jail sentences as punishment. According to a 2012 report on LGBT life in the southern African country, “King Mswati has reportedly called same-sex relationships “satanic,” and Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini has called homosexuality “an abnormality and a sickness.”
63. Syria — Up to three years in prison.
Despite Syria’s current upheaval, for the time being, the country’s anti-sodomy laws remain in effect. As such, any kind of “unnatural sexual intercourse” is against the law with a possible jail sentence of up to three years.
64. Tanzania — A minimum prison sentence of 20 years; possible life sentence.
Tanzania’s penal code forbids persons from having “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.” Those convicted face a harsh minimum sentence: “Any person who attempts to commit any of the offences specified under section 154 commits an offence and shall on conviction be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than twenty years.” In some instances, Tanzanians could face life in prison for a “sexual offence” conviction.
65. Togo — Fine and one to three years in jail.
As outlined in Togo’s penal code: “Impudent acts or crimes against the nature with an individual of the same sex are punished with imprisonment from one to three years and 100,000–500,000 franc in fines.” (About $200 to $1,000.)
66. Tonga — Up to 10 years in prison and “whipping for certain offenses.”
Tonga, an island nation near Fiji, not only bans sodomy but has very specific wording about how to define it. According to the country’s law, last updated in 1988, “On the trial of any person upon a charge of sodomy or carnal knowledge it shall not be necessary to prove the actual emission of seed but the offense shall be deemed complete on proof of penetration only.”
67. Trinidad and Tobago — Up to 25 years in prison.
According to a 2013 survey by Caribbean Development Research Services (or Cadres), slightly more than half of Trinidadians regard themselves as tolerant or accepting of the LGBT community. The survey was reportedly the first of its kind in the country. Laws against “buggery,” holdovers from early 19th century colonial influence, are still on the books in Trinidad.
68. Tunisia — Up to three years in prison; same-sex activity between women is legal.
In April 2013, Mounir Baatour, a Tunisian opposition party leader, was arrested and charged with sodomy. He had allegedly been caught having sex with a young man at a hotel. Critics of the incident (and the law itself) have said that Tunisia’s sodomy law is being used as a political tool. The case is currently being appealed.
71. Uganda — 14 years to life in prison.
Uganda (along with Tanzania, Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Mauritania) is arguably one of the most dangerous countries for LGBT Africans. At present, gays face 14 years to life. Since 2009, there has been a push to enact an “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” that will impose even harsher penalties — and potentially death. Despite this very hostile environment, some queer Ugandans have made notable efforts in the last few years to gain visibility in the international community.
72. United Arab Emirates — Various punishments, possibly a death sentence.
As noted in the 2013 ILGA report on state-sponsored homophobia, “All sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage are banned in the United Arab Emirates. However, whether sodomy is punished with death penalty remains in dispute. The Arabic text of article 354 is ambiguously phrased and can be translated in different ways. Some sources indicate that the article punishes rape of a woman or forced sodomy with a man, while others indicate that it punishes rape on women and sodomy between men.” Additionally, anti-sodomy laws exist within the various Emirates; those convicted could be subjected to both punishments.
74. Yemen — Imprisonment up to seven years, whipping with 100 lashes, or death by stoning, depending on gender and circumstances.
Obviously, state-sanctioned homophobia is not unique, but Yemen’s laws against gays and lesbians are especially disturbing:
Article 264: “Homosexuality between men is defined as penetration into the anus. Unmarried men shall be punished with 100 lashes of the whip or a maximum of one year of imprisonment, married men with death by stoning.”
Article 268: “Homosexuality between women is defined as sexual stimulation by rubbing. The penalty for premeditated commission shall be up to three years of imprisonment; where the offense has been committed under duress, the perpetrator shall be punishable with up to seven years detention.”
75. Zambia — 15 years to life in prison.
As per a 2005 amendment of the penal code, Section 155, persons found guilty of committing “unnatural offences” are sentences “to imprisonment for a term not less than fifteen years and may be liable to imprisonment for life.” An attempt to commit such an offense is punishable by seven to 14 years.
76. Zimbabwe — Fine and up to 10 years in prison for men; same-sex activity between women is legal.
Though male homosexuality was already illegal in his country, in 2006 President Robert Mugabe made the law even more stringent, forbidding even holding hands, hugging, and kissing. His reelection this week has LGBT activists even more nervous; in June he said anti-gay laws were “too lenient” and even said he’d support the beheading of gays.
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