(See Below for Case Law, Evidence of Public Attitudes, NGOs that Assist or Advocate on LGBTI issues, and Country of Origin LGBTI Specialists)
Section 520 of the penal code criminalizes “bodily lust against the laws of nature”, which, according to Islamic law, includes homosexuality. Lesbianism is less acknowledged in Syrian society due to the greater restrictions faced by women by virtue of their gender, regardless of their sexuality.
S.Q. vs. Minister for Justice & Ors, (2013, Ireland)
A Syrian man applied for refugee status in 2006 in Ireland, based on his fear of being persecuted for his sexual orientation. After an incident in 2006, his father discovered his homosexuality and allegedly tried to kill him, while being aided by the local police. The applicant thus feared that state actors would be able to find him even if he relocated within Syria. In 2007, the ORAC (Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner) issued a decision recommending to not grant him refugee status, due to a “lack of credibility”, as “alleged persecution was not sufficiently serious by its nature or repetition as to constitute a severe violation of his basic human rights”. The applicant appealed, and his first appeal was rejected in 2008. He then appealed again in 2012 to the High Court, which sided with him, concluding that : “The tribunal member failed to consider the applicant’s fear of persecution as a homosexual in Syria with particular reference to societal and non-state agent discrimination against him and denial to him because of his homosexuality of basic and fundamental rights.”
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.’
Since 2011, LGBT individuals in Syria are found to be facing a double threat : persecution from the Syrian army and from extremist groups, as well as from their own families. Issues surrounding sexual violence and persecution have intensified since the beginning of the armed conflict and are now being documented. A report by Reliefweb details how boys are significantly vulnerable to sexual violence in Syrian government detention centers, but also during house searches and detentions. This report from 2018 elaborates on how widespread sexual violence is within these centers, as it is being used as a form of torture for state actors. While non-state armed actors revert to these practices less systemically, sexual violence is motivated in these groups “by exploitation, religious affiliation and revenge”.
Multiple articles point to the increased targeting of LGBT persons in armed conflicts, especially in areas controlled by armed groups. Men accused of homosexuality in Syria have been executed by ISIL by being thrown off high buildings. Armed groups use this persecution to instill fear and suppress any type of resistance.
Violence and persecution does not end in Syria however, as Syrian LGBT refugees continue being harrassed and assaulted in neighboring countries. According to the article : “Syrians who fled to Lebanon were later harassed on suspicion of being gay, and in some cases were arrested and allegedly tortured by Lebanese security forces while in detention”.
LGBTQ+ Syrians describe Lebanon as having more safe spaces, but as still being dangerous for them. Moreover, the Syrian LGBT individuals are marginalised on two fronts in Lebanon : firstly because they’re Syrian, which makes them more vulnerable to arbitrary detention and discrimination (88% of Syrians do not have a legal residence in Lebanon). Secondly, state actors and the general population have a sense of impunity when abusing or harassing LGBT individuals, as reporting it to the police is near-impossible. Moreover, Syrian LGBT individuals find themselves discriminated against in the workforce, and often have little support from relatives and family.
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, as some more affluent neighborhoods are known to be more tolerant. Virtual social networks are also being used as a way to find a support system for people often rejected by their own families and relatives. However, 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.)
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)