Saudi Arabia has arrested a 29-year-old Yemeni blogger for posting a video on social media that supported equal rights.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the young blogger Mohamad Al-Bokari, who is an undocumented migrant in Saudi, was reportedly subjected to beatings and torture in prison, made to undergo an anal examination and was being forced to confess that he is gay.

While there are no specific laws in Saudi Arabia that penalises same sex relations, according to Equaldex, same sex relations are illegal in Saudi Arabia. Punishment ranges from fines, lashing, prison, deportation or death and a second arrest resulting in execution.

Michael Page, Deputy Middle East Director of HRW, said the agency was concerned about al-Bokari’s safety and wellbeing and urged the Saudi government to release him.

“Saudi Arabia’s relentless policing of free expression reveals the hypocrisy of a government that has promised to carry out reforms.”

HRW said it was worried that Saudi may deport the blogger back to Yemen, a country he fled in 2019 after receiving death threats. Page expressed fears that Al-Bokari’s life may be at risk if he was deported to Yemen, “Saudi authorities should do the right thing and immediately release the young man, who was only expressing his opinion.”

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 “Being gay is not a problem in Saudi Arabia, unless it comes into the public domain,” said a Sydney-based Saudi Arabian journalist who did not wish to be named. “Al-Bokari is facing two sets of problems, the video he made has made the public angry. Secondly, Saudi is suspicious of undocumented migrants who come from Yemen, because of the ongoing hostilities between the two countries. It is outrageous to put him in jail and being subjected to unscientific procedures like an anal examination.”

Al-Bokari was arrested on April 8, after he posted a video on Twitter, where he was asked about his position on same-sex relations. He replied: “Everyone has rights and should be able to practice them freely, including gay people.”

The statement seems to have infuriated the authorities, who arrested him and have placed him in pre-trial detention in al-Malaz prison in Riyadh, according to HRW.

In a statement to the media, Shaker bin Suleiman Al-Tuwaijri, spokesperson for the Riyadh police confirmed the arrest. Al-Tuwaijri said that police had intervened and arrested Al-Bokari following an outcry on social media over his statement that had “sexual references” and “violated public order and morals.”

 

HRW said that a source who was in contact with Al-Bokari said that the blogger who suffers from a chronic heart condition was beaten, assaulted and forced to confess he was gay.

“The source said that Al-Bokari was subjected to a forced anal exam, an internationally discredited practice used to seek ‘proof’ of homosexual conduct… the authorities accused Al-Bokari of being a ‘sodomiser’ who is ‘imitating women,’ and ‘violating public order’ by ‘publicly defending homosexuality online.’ These accusations indicate that Saudi authorities are discriminating against Al-Bokari based on his perceived sexual orientation and gender expression,” the international organisation said, while seeking the release of the blogger.

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