A blogger, born in Yemen but now an undocumented immigrant in Saudi Arabia, has been convicted and sentenced to 10 months in prison after he tweeted that there should be equal rights for everyone – including the LGBTQ community.
Mohamad al-Bokari, 29, was arrested in Riyadh the Saudi capital on April 8 and spent six weeks prior to his trial in solitary confinement in a fetid cell with no windows, air-conditioning, or proper ventilation.
According to Human Rights Watch, a source close to Al-Bokari said the prisoner was subjected to an anal exam, which HRW said is a universally discredited approach to determining if a criminal suspect has engaged in gay sex and can be pushed to the point of torture. Al-Bokari had also been beaten and verbally abused by his captors.
At the time of his arrest, Saudi police said that the video al-Bokari posted, which sparked anger on social media, contained “sexual references” that “violate public order and morals,” prompting urgent police intervention.
HRW viewed the recording and believe al-Bokari was responding to social media queries, including on his position regarding same-sex relations.
He said, “Everyone has rights and should be able to practice them freely, including gay people.”
— أبو طلال الحمراني (@al7mrany) April 8, 2020
Last week a Saudi court convicted al-Bokari to 10 months jail, a fine equal to roughly $2,700, and deportation back to Yemen.
The blogger left Yemen in June 2019 after armed groups there threatened his life. He has lived in Saudi Arabia as an undocumented immigrant since that time.
HRW’s LGBTQ researcher, Rasha Younes, said in a written statement said, “Saudi Arabia’s public relations campaigns tout the kingdom’s ‘progress,’ but the court’s jail sentence for peaceful speech and then deportation to Yemen where the defendant’s life is at risk shows how hollow these claims are.”
“Saudi Arabia should match rhetoric with reality and drop the case and the deportation against al-Bokari immediately,” said Younes.
After his conviction, al-Bokari was brought to a cell housing other inmates, who called him a “devil worshipper” and said he deserves the death penalty.
The blogger suffers from a chronic heart condition, HRW reported, and when his health began to deteriorate in prison, he was taken to a hospital and administered an electrocardiogram. He was never given the results of that exam, and the doctor who treated him claimed he has no heart condition, even though HRW’s source said he was “on the verge of collapsing.”
Saudi Arabia subscribes to the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression, but public discussion of LGBTG issues, according to HRW, are typically prosecuted under a cybercrime that bans online activity that compromises “public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy.”
Similarly, the Saudi state has no written ban on same-gender sexual relations but typically applies Islamic law forbidding sexual conduct outside of marriage and other “immoral” behaviour.
Bokari has 30 days to appeal the verdict.