Kuwait’s health minister is reportedly keen to implement routine “gay tests” to weed out gay immigrants wanting to enter Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), leading human rights campaigners to say this would violate the rights of players and spectators at the Qatar 2022 Soccer World Cup.
Multiple news organizations are reporting that the Kuwaiti health ministry’s director of public health, Yousuf Mindkar, will review a proposal to use the existing medical tests all expatriates must undergo to enter GCCs in order to find and then deny entry to gay immigrants and potentially tourists.
He is quoted as saying “Health centers conduct the routine medical check to assess the health of the expatriates when they come into the GCC countries. However, we will take stricter measures that will help us detect gays who will be then barred from entering Kuwait or any of the GCC member states.”
It is unclear as to exactly what these gay tests might entail, but such attempts might include a forced penile plethysmography test or, as has been known in certain North African states, forced anal examinations.
Currently, homosexual sex is banned in Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — all the GCC member countries. Kuwait’s new attempt at gay tests for immigrants and tourists offers an insight into the region’s terrible anti-LGBT rights laws and an apparent rising sense of paranoia in the region.
While each memberstate’s exact penalties for breaking the law vary, Kuwait offers a prison term of up to 10 years if one of the parties is under the age of 21. Furthermore, there is a penal code provision that expressly criminalizes “imitating the appearance of a member of the opposite sex,” doling out fines and a possible jail term. There are no laws expressly banning female homosexuality, though laws surrounding female propriety may be used in those instances. There are laws that ban topics that offend “public morals” and religious sensibilities from being included in broadcast or print, much like the Russian propaganda law we’ve all heard so much about.
Kuwait of course made headlines in May this year when The Kuwaiti Times reported that “Over 200 homos, lesbians held in countrywide net cafe raids.”
The report claimed that the government’s Criminal Investigation Department had carried out “an extensive campaign” at Internet cafes and “suspicious places,” eventually arresting 215 young homosexuals and lesbians of various nationalities. Reasons offered for these arrests include outstanding gambling offenses and illegal conduct. None of the arrests were strictly related to being gay, but human rights groups document that it is not uncommon for Kuwaiti police to arrest gay and transgender people for very little reason at all.
Many of the countries in the GCC have taken a particular dislike to immigration, seeing it as a force that is eroding morals. Often, this seems to blend almost seamlessly with anti-LGBT fervor and other prejudices.
Two years ago, officials in Bahrain arrested 127 people, many reported to be gay or trans, for holding what was described as a “decadent” party. An emphasis was put on arresting those who weren’t Bahraini nationals.
Yet perhaps the most concerning angle for wider interest groups is what the medical test mandate could mean for those attending the Qatar 2022 Football (Soccer) World Cup. Questions and indeed protests had already been voiced given Quatar’s strict anti-homosexuality laws.
Now human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has spoken out on the issue in a comment to IB Times UK, saying that FIFA must now act and either cancel the games or move them elsewhere, commenting that the proposed legislation “will mean that gay players and spectators will be banned from attending the football world cup.”
Tatchell adds, “This contradicts previous assurances given to FIFA by the Qatar government that everyone will be welcome and that there will be no discrimination. FIFA now has no option but to cancel the world cup in Qatar. Allowing it to go ahead in these circumstances would involve FIFA colluding with homophobic discrimination.”
FIFA has said it is not aware of this specific issue but that it remains committed to a zero tolerance policy on discrimination. Tatchell quite rightly raises the issue that Qatar’s repression of homosexuality is in no way new, so how a commitment to non-discrimination can be squared with allowing Qatar to hold the games in the first place is unclear.
What is only too apparent is that, rather than taking international rights commitments seriously, GCC nations are willing to push their anti-gay laws to extremes. Until now, these laws have not received as much press as, say, the Russian propaganda law, but the Qatar 2020 tournament offers a rare chance at focusing the international spotlight on the region’s dire LGBT rights record and perhaps even creating conditions for some positive changes.
Expect to hear more about this story in the coming months and, indeed, years.
Image credit: Thinkstock.