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Jan 29, 2009

Whilst Bahrain is known to be fairly progressive in some areas of human rights, the country still prohibits homosexuality, calling it a "danger to Islamic values." Recently the government has enacted restrictions on internet access, preventing the public from logging onto certain sites like gaydar.com and gay.com.

Bahrain’s Recent History On The Treatment of Homosexuality

This move follows from a government meeting during October of last year, where concerns were raised about "networks of homosexuals." MP Shaikh Mohammed Khalid declared, "We have homosexual rates on the rise, with such people working in flower shops, massage parlours or barber's salons."

Clearly the MP has investigated the matter rather extensively, and isn’t relying on, for instance, stereotypes.

This restriction on homosexuality goes even further back, however, to an April parliament meeting that launched an attack on gay immigrants and tourists, citing them as the principal source of Bahrain's gay population. The result was the government declaring the right to turn away gay tourists. Unfortunately, reports have circulated that such a crackdown has proved less than fruitful due to gay people acting "manly" until they are outside of government checks and then "returning to their unacceptable homosexual attitude" as Jalal Fairooz, a secretary to the national security committee, commented.  (gaynewsbits.com, 02-19-2008.)

(No word as to how they are detecting gay women.)


The government's "Morality Police," whose job is to protect the values of citizens, have begun regular checks on salons, massage parlors and the like, in order to round up suspects and take those cases to public prosecution. Earlier this year, two men were arrested for "debauchery" after accepting an offer from an undercover agent to have relations in exchange for 10 U.S. dollars. The Al Waqt newspaper reports that they were sentenced to six months of prison and hard labor.


Where Does the Internet Crackdown Fit In Bahrain’s War On Homosexuality?

It should be noted that the Bahraini government has imposed these restrictions in a move to filter internet pornography and not solely to limit homosexual activity. However the implications are clear, and the fall out is just as damaging. Gay people from Bahrain have expressed their widespread concern about the measure, with one anonymous man commenting, "I'm really disappointed, but I have already found a way around it."

However, if sites such as gaydar.com are being excluded from the country's internet access, homosexuals within Bahrain--a negligible number according to the government--will be forced to move from the relative safety of online dating sites to the riskier public domain. 

In doing so, the government uses the pejorative stereotype that they have created--that of the gay individual being a seedy, morally bankrupt subsection of society--to facilitate a climate of fear. If the public at large accept this stereotype, one that is seen to be supported by religious doctrine and authority, and people begin to perceive homosexuals as a dangerous blight on their society, they could call for such individuals to be suppressed.

Suppression then becomes justifiable for the government if it is part of the larger moral consensus, which could lead to more severe policies, such as those in Iran, where homosexuality is punnishable by death.

So whilst this one step of prohibiting gay dating sites may on the surface seem trivial, police raids and crackdowns have already begun; this could be seen as one of a myriad of steps in a rapidly escalating situation, a situation which could potentially become much worse for gay citizens and expats, and one the global Human Rights Community will surely keep a close watch on.

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Posted: Jan 29, 2009 10:00am

 

 
 
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Steve Busfield
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Wakefield, United Kingdom
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