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Saudi Arabia 'to jail and deport' Yemeni over pro-LGBT video

Mohamed al-Bokari faces a 10-month prison sentence on several charges, including 'imitating women'
Mohamed al-Bokhari, 29, has been living in Riyadh for seven months after fleeing death threats in his home country Yemen (Facebook/@MohammedAlbokari.i)

A Saudi court has sentenced a Yemeni national to prison and deportation over an online video supporting LGBT rights, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

According to the New York-based group, Yemeni blogger Mohamed al-Bokari was sentenced on 20 July to 10 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 Saudi riyals ($2,700) on charges of “violating public morality by promoting homosexuality online”, and “imitating women”.

“These charges show that the court decision is based on discriminatory accusations against al-Bokari based on his perceived sexual orientation and gender expression,” HRW said.

Bokari has 30 days to appeal the verdict. 

The 29-year-old was arrested in April after posting videos on the social networking application SnapChat in which he advocated the rights of gay people, urging the public to respect their personal freedom.

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“Everyone has their own rights. Homosexuals have their rights. I hope you will leave homosexual people alone and not intervene in their personal affairs. Everyone is free,” he said in response to social media questions.  

He said he had been living in Riyadh for seven months after fleeing Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is battling the Houthi movement, and denied claims that he underwent a gender reassignment surgery. 

According to HRW, Bokari had fled his home country Yemen in June 2019 after militants threatened to kill him. He has since been living in Saudi Arabia as an undocumented migrant. 

The group warned against deporting Bokari to Yemen, where his life would be at risk. 

Although Saudi Arabia does not officially ban LGBT rights, its judicial establishment resorts to cybercrime laws to prosecute people such as Bokari on charges of violating “public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy”.

Since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rose to prominence in 2016, the Saudi government has publicised a number of liberalising reforms.

While implementing high-profile reforms such as allowing women to drive, however, the Saudi authorities have jailed many rights activists who have called for the moves for years.

Many women's rights activists currently languish in prison. Loujain al-Hathloul, the most prominent of them, who has reportedly been tortured and sexually abused in detention, has not been heard of by her family for over six weeks.