ResearchFree Expression Online

No Access LGBTIQ Website Censorship in Six Countries

  • [1] Open Observatory of Network Interference
  • [2] OutRight Action International

This publication is the result of an investigation by the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), and OutRight Action International. Read the full report [pdf] and our annotated bibliography [pdf]. This summary post has been translated to Bahasa Indonesia.

Table of Contents
Overview
Purpose
Methodology
Limitations
Key Overall Findings
––Summary of Technical Findings
Key Findings by Country
––Indonesia
––Malaysia
––Russia
––Iran
––Saudi Arabia
––United Arab Emirates

Overview

Online spaces are critical for safely identifying information and resources, establishing social connections, and engaging in rights advocacy and movement-building. For marginalized populations in particular, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) people, the ability to virtually connect and securely communicate is a lifeline. Yet, state-sponsored online censorship is on the rise globally, targeting LGBTIQ activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and political dissidents, among others.

Website censorship is often implemented alongside other restrictions (e.g., lawsuits and arbitrary arrests) that constrain civil liberties and curtail human rights movements. Countries that are engaging in censorship are in violation of international human rights norms and principles. In 2018, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) affirmed “that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression.”[1] Moreover, Article 19(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) stipulates that restrictions on freedom of expression can occur only in limited circumstances and must adhere to the principles of legality, legitimacy, and necessity.[2] Of the six countries studied in this report, Indonesia, Russia, and Iran have ratified the ICCPR.[3] 

As digital technology continues to advance, website censorship, along with efforts to circumvent it, are dynamic. This leads to a persistent game of cat-and-mouse between governments and users, both of whom are trying to stay ahead of the other. Governments are also applying ever-more sophisticated means to curtail the work of rights activists around the world, including LGBTIQ activists, using Internet blocking, bandwidth “throttling,” surveillance, and other means.[4] 

OutRight Action International, the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, and the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) collaborated to conduct this research on LGBTIQ website censorship and its impact on LGBTIQ communities. This report is focused on the following countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These countries are known for having some of the most challenging environments for the promotion and protection of human rights in the world. In addition to repressive laws, non-democratic rule, and lack of transparency and accountability, online censorship in these jurisdictions hampers the efforts of civil society who are fighting to create a more equal and just society. Furthermore, as LGBTIQ people often must contend with stigma, as well as societal, religious, or family condemnation, censorship increases their isolation and inhibits efforts to publicize rights violations and abuse. Nonetheless, LGBTIQ individuals continue to press forward in fighting for equality and mobilizing others in their community despite risking fines, assault, or imprisonment.

Purpose

The objectives of our research are as follows.

  1. Document which LGBTIQ websites are blocked in the six countries;
  2. Investigate how website censorship impacts local LGBTIQ communities and their movements to secure justice and equality; and
  3. Determine how local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) implement website blocking.

Methodology

We use a “mixed methods” approach in our study, consisting of network measurement via the OONI platform, literature research, and remote semi-structured interviews.

Network Measurement: We used OONI’s technology to examine LGBTIQ website censorship in the six countries between June 1st, 2016 and July 31st, 2020. Called OONI Probe, this free and open-source software measures various forms of Internet censorship, including website blocking.[5] We collected data from the OONI Web Connectivity test and examined this dataset for instances of deliberate blocking on consumer-facing, commercial ISPs.[6] For each instance of deliberate blocking identified, we created an annotation that could be used through an iterative process to identify further instances of blocking using the same method. The final product was a collection of URLs identified as blocked in our six countries of interest.

Literature Research: We conducted a literature review covering each country. Peer-reviewed articles, human rights reports, media accounts, and organizational reports informed the case studies.

Interviews: Two interviewers conducted a total of fifteen semi-structured interviews with key informants from, or with expertise on, each of the six countries. Through these interviews, we identified challenges in accessing online LGBTIQ-related information, common approaches to censorship circumvention, and the impact of website censorship on LGBTIQ rights and movement-building.

Limitations

This study does not necessarily reflect the full extent of LGBTIQ website censorship in each of these countries, but rather provides an indication of LGBTIQ website censorship based on available OONI measurements. This is because the number and type of LGBTIQ websites tested in each country varied during our analysis period. In addition, since our measurement findings depend on OONI Probe tests run by local volunteers, there is not only variance in the testing coverage across networks within countries, but also across countries as well.

Different countries have different ISP markets with a diverse number of registered ASNs, while ISPs in each country implement Internet censorship in different ways to be in compliance with different laws and regulations. An effort was made to make sure the testing lists used in this study were comprehensive. Nonetheless, there may be gaps in terms of topics not covered by the lists, and therefore not seen in the results. For more details on these limitations, please review the “Limitations” section in the Methodology appendix.    

Key Overall Findings

Below are some of the cross-cutting findings from our research:

  • Self-censorship is common, especially where punitive actions against LGBTIQ communities (e.g., arbitrary arrest and detention) are intensifying. Such actions are often undertaken in the name of safeguarding national security, protecting children or minors, or preserving traditional or religious norms and values.
  • In all six countries, LGBTIQ-related content may also be wrongly construed as pornography and therefore subject to laws outlawing such content. As a result, users carefully avoid publishing or accessing information that may be construed as violating these laws, which contribute to self-censorship.
  • LGBTIQ users in at least three of the six countries are at risk of online entrapment by local authorities or other malevolent actors. Members of law enforcement in Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia have posed as gay or trans people online to entrap LGBTIQ individuals, putting them at risk of arrest, exploitation, and threats of violence.[7] The presence of LGBTIQ apps on a user’s phone has also been used as grounds for intimidation and prosecution.
  • Online threats result in LGBTIQ activists having to continually educate themselves about new and safe methods to communicate online and circumvent censorship. In addition, activists must learn about how current and emerging technology could possibly help or harm them. This is difficult to do where access to information is already challenging, as in remote or rural areas.
  • LGBTIQ website censorship does not necessarily correlate with criminalization of homosexuality, but it does relate to efforts to limit the exercise of fundamental human rights by LGBTIQ people. Neither Indonesia nor Russia criminalize homosexuality, yet in both countries, censorship targeting LGBTIQ content online is significant due to legislation curtailing “anti-gay propaganda” and restrictions against “obscene” content. In Malaysia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, laws criminalizing homosexuality have been used to justify censorship.
  • There are differences in terms of local and international websites that were found blocked. In Malaysia and Indonesia, all local LGBTIQ websites tested were accessible, while international LGBTIQ-websites were blocked. Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE blocked access to local, regional, and international LGBTIQ sites.
  • ISPs in all six countries serve block pages that notify users that a website is censored. The technical means by which ISPs serve block pages, however, vary across countries and in some cases, among ISPs within the same country. ISPs in Indonesia and Malaysia use DNS hijacking, Iranian ISPs primarily use DNS injection, Russian ISPs primarily use HTTP transparent proxies (although some also use DNS hijacking), Saudi Arabian ISPs use transparent proxies, and ISPs in the UAE use either HTTP injection or transparent HTTP proxies using Netsweeper, depending on configuration.
  • Government efforts to block access to online content require the support of private-sector actors. As private companies own and operate many different parts of the Internet, from physical infrastructure to platforms, their cooperation is required to implement online controls. In both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, ISPs blocked websites using WireFilter, a company based in Riyadh, while in the UAE, ISPs use Netsweeper, a Canadian company.
  • In four of the six countries, the most frequently blocked LGBTIQ websites were those primarily aimed at the “Culture” category. This category is composed of websites that aim to build a community (e.g., sports, Pride, or personal blogs) and provide information about art and culture. Most URLs in our test lists belong in the “Culture” category, which contributes to its higher representation in our results.
  • The highest blocking consistency was found in Saudi Arabia, where most LGBTIQ URLs were found blocked more than 75 percent of the times tested, but blocking appeared to be inconsistent in many settings. We observed inconsistency in which websites were blocked (or not) across countries and, in some cases, by different ISPs within the same country.
  • The highest number of LGBTIQ URLs found blocked was in Iran. In total, seventy-five unique LGBTIQ URLs were detected as blocked in the country, followed by the UAE where fifty-one unique LGBTIQ URLs were found to be blocked. Iran appears to have a uniform censorship apparatus, as most ISPs not only blocked the same websites, but also use the same set of censorship techniques.
  • Russia had the highest number of networks that block LGBTIQ URLs. We detected the blocking of LGBTIQ websites on 172 distinct Autonomous System (AS) networks.[8] Iran has the second highest prevalence of blocking, with LGBTIQ websites being blocked on eighty-four AS networks. In Indonesia, LGBTIQ websites were blocked on forty-three AS networks, while in the UAE, LGBTIQ websites were found blocked on only three AS networks. These results may reflect the diversity of each country’s ISP market as some of these countries have a larger and more diverse ISP market (and therefore have more AS networks) than others.

Summary of technical findings

Our technical findings, along with information on the criminalization of LGBTIQ-related activities, are summarized for each country in the following table (Table 1).

Indonesia Malaysia Iran Russia Saudi Arabia UAE
Criminalization of homosexuality No Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Other legislation used to curtail LGBTIQ human rights (e.g., so-called gay propaganda laws, pornography laws, anti-cross-dressing laws) Yes Yes Yes Yes

Yes

Yes

Unique LGBTIQ URLs blocked

38

6

75

32

26

51

International LGBTIQ sites blocked

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Local/Regional LGBTIQ sites blocked

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Number of AS networks where LGBTIQ site blocking detected

43/97

(44.33%)

8/41

(19.51%)

84/104

(80.77%)

172/1012

(17.00%)

12/23

(52.17%)

3/12

(25.00%)

Top ISP where most LGBTIQ site blocking detected

*Telekomunikasi Indonesia (Telkom)

Telekom Malaysia (TM Net)

Shatel

*MGTS

*Saudi Telecom (STC)

*Du

How block pages are primarily served

DNS hijacking

DNS hijacking

DNS injection

HTTP transparent proxies

WireFilter technology

WireFilter & Netsweeper technologies

Number of blocking annotations

84

4

6

148

2

9

Average percentage of blocking consistency

> 50 percent

> 50 percent

> 50 percent

< 2 percent

> 75 percent

~ 25 percent

Censorship technology detected

No

No

No

No

WireFilter

WireFilter, Netsweeper

Other findings

Variance in the blocking of LGBTIQ websites across Indonesian ISP networks

Potential “censorship leakage” from Indonesia (involving fifteen other unique URLs)

Uniform Centralized censorship apparatus

Ads served in some block pages

All ISPs in Saudi Arabia consistently implement Internet censorship in the same way

Many of the blocked LGBTIQ websites are currently non-operational

Table 1: Summary of technical findings and information on the criminalization of LGBTIQ-related activities per country.

* Denotes majority or complete state ownership of that ISP.

Key Findings by Country

Indonesia

Background

Indonesia has seen a steady increase in Internet users over the last twenty years. Data from 2018 suggests that more than 64 percent of Indonesia’s over 270 million people are using the Internet, while 20 million people came online for the first time between 2019 and 2020.[9] The rise in connectivity, however, is accompanied by a growing influence of conservative Islam in this Muslim-majority country. This trend has led to a rise in state-sponsored Internet censorship, fuelled by the push to sanction beliefs and behavior perceived as antithetical to Islamic teaching.[10] In spite of this, the 2020 Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Survey reported some improvement in attitudes towards homosexuality in Indonesia. Whereas only 3 percent of those surveyed in 2007 believed that homosexuality should be accepted by Indonesian society, this rate had grown to 9 percent by 2019.[11]

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) play a crucial role in facilitating LGBTIQ rights education and advocacy. Some of the more established LGBTIQ organizations have provided support for those facing psychosocial and sexual well-being issues through Internet chat rooms and instant messaging, in addition to telephone hotlines and in-person counselling sessions. Furthermore, our interviews with in-country experts revealed that LGBTIQ individuals increasingly use social media as their primary means of communication.[12] As a result, access to social platforms has become crucial for individuals seeking information on sexual and reproductive health, and to find romantic or sexual partners.[13] Yet, our analysis suggests that LGBTIQ Internet content is still being routinely, if inconsistently, censored, forcing LGBTIQ activists and communities to devise circumvention and self-censorship strategies.

As activism shifts online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attacks against LGBTIQ individuals have intensified. Multiple sources interviewed reported that LGBTIQ people consider learning about and practicing advanced digital security methods as a must. These security methods are necessary not only because of surveillance concerns on platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, but also to protect themselves from malicious actors who infiltrate online LGBTIQ events and other spaces.[14] 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Indonesians’ livelihoods across the board, the trans community has been reported to be one of the hardest hit, particularly those who work in the beauty or esthetics industry.[15] The trans community’s hardship is compounded by the fact that transgender people in Indonesia struggle to obtain basic documentation (e.g., national identity cards or KTP) to access public services.[16] Censorship of LGBTIQ content further harms those hardest hit by the pandemic by denying them access to opportunities (e.g., job postings), social connection, health information, and support services.

Timeline of selected events in Indonesia
Figure 1: Timeline of selected LGBTIQ events in Indonesia

Key Findings

  • The growing influence of conservative Islam in Indonesia and the implementation of legislation targeting pornography result in LGBTIQ Internet content being routinely, if inconsistently, blocked or censored.
  • In total, we found that thirty-eight unique LGBTIQ URLs were blocked at least once during our testing in Indonesia. Blocked URLs include websites that create a sense of community (e.g., Transgender Map), conduct advocacy (e.g., the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)), and provide dating services (e.g., Grindr).
  • None of the LGBTIQ websites found blocked in Indonesia are in Bahasa Indonesia or appear to be intended for an Indonesia-specific audience.
  • The extent of LGBTIQ website blocking varied across Indonesian ISPs. Most blocks were observed on Telekomunikasi Indonesia (Telkom), which is the largest ISP in Indonesia and majority owned by the Indonesian government, followed by Indosat Ooredoo (Indosat), a private company.
  • Given Indonesia’s censorship regime, LGBTIQ activists and communities have to devise circumvention and self-censorship strategies and increase their reliance on social media.

Malaysia

Background

Malaysia is known for having a hybrid legal system with “a gray line between secularity and Islamicity.”[17] Each of Malaysia’s thirteen states have established their own Sharia (Islamic law) courts to adjudicate on issues related to Islamic legislation.[18] Sharia courts are responsible for matters related to “Muslim personal law,” including “family law, charitable property, religious revenue, places of worship, religious offenses such as adultery and other forms of sexual misconduct, defamation, non-payment of alms, and consumption of liquor.”[19] Religious authorities in Malaysia are known to regularly raid LGBTIQ-friendly venues, including bars, saunas, and parks, to enforce Sharia law.[20] Malaysia inherited from British colonial rule Section 377A of its penal code, which punishes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.”[21] This provision has been used to punish consensual same-sex relations with mandatory whipping and up to twenty years in prison.[22] 

The struggle for equal rights in the country is often framed as a battle between Western and Asian cultures—with the latter entailing the exclusion of LGBTIQ individuals.[23] For example, in 2019, then-prime minister (PM) Mahathir Mohamad asserted that “the LGBT lifestyle was a shift in the Westerners’ moral values and they wanted to force that lifestyle on other countries.”[24] Malaysian policymakers have also used vague concepts such as “traditional values” to justify their discriminatory attitudes against LGBTIQ people.[25] The infamous criminal charges of same-sex relations against former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim in 1998, which led to his imprisonment, were also based on a state-sponsored demonization of homosexuality as deviant behavior.[26] 

Long-standing anti-LGBTIQ sentiments have made advocacy and movement building in the country especially difficult. Thilaga, a queer activist and a founding member of the advocacy group Justice for Sisters whom we interviewed, remarked that LGBTIQ communities are “impacted by censorship, [because] every time an event or forum is organized, there is always the threat of infiltration or a raid.”[27] For example, Malaysian police banned the Sexuality Independence (Seksualiti Merdeka) festival in 2011, which featured informational sexual diversity and LGBTIQ rights activities such as workshops, talks, and performances.[28] In March 2019, LGBTIQ groups’ participation in an International Women’s Day event was even condemned by then-minister of religious affairs Mujahid Yusof Rawa as “a misuse of democratic space.”[29] With regard to LGBTIQ representation in popular culture, the national media leadership has eased restrictions on LGBTIQ portrayals in film, but the Malaysian Film Censorship Board (LPF) only allows for “homosexual content” in films if the gay characters “reform” (i.e., become heterosexual) by the end of the film.[30] 

Amidst the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, LGBTIQ individuals in Malaysia, as everywhere, face heightened vulnerabilities due to pre-existing stigma and discrimination. As a result, LGBTIQ individuals are less likely to seek medical help, tests, and treatments.[31] LGBTIQ patients in medical facilities have reported experiences ranging from “doctors who won’t touch them” to “being openly shamed by doctors,” and to “receiving hasty, inadequate diagnosis and treatment.”[32] Transgender individuals are particularly reticent to seek healthcare, out of fear of government detainment or persecution for not having legal documents that match their gender identity.[33] This fear is due to Malaysia’s status as one of a few countries in the world that criminalizes transgender people.[34] Discrimination, in addition to fears that their personal information “could be used against them,” lead to low health-seeking behavior within the LGBTIQ community in Malaysia.[35]

According to Malaysian LGBTIQ rights group, Queer Lapis, the hesitation of LGBTIQ individuals to seek medical attention is likely exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially because these individuals are often blamed (e.g., at home or on social media) for causing the pandemic.[36] Queer Lapis has also received reports of domestic abuse experienced by LGBTIQ individuals who are forced to return to their family homes due to the pandemic.[37] One person who spoke with Queer Lapis shared how his mental health has deteriorated given his father’s frequent outbursts, blaming him and the “deviancy of LGBT people” for the pandemic.[38] 

Figure 2: Timeline of selected LGBTIQ events in Malaysia

Key Findings

  • The Malaysian Internet ecosystem is one of the most vibrant in the Southeast Asia region, but the continuing influence of conservative Islam has led to persistent denial of LGBTIQ rights.
  • Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act of 1998 has been used to block LGBTIQ websites. In addition to the Penal Code’s Section 377A which criminalizes sodomy, Sharia law has been used arbitrarily to target LGBTIQ individuals.
  • A total of twenty-one unique URLs relevant to LGBTIQ communities were found blocked through our testing. It appears that many are blocked, however, as a result of some form of “censorship leakage” from Indonesia. In-country experts suggested that the more visibility LGBTIQ content receives, the more likely the authorities are to censor it.
  • At least two websites that are relevant to LGBTIQ communities were consistently blocked (e.g., Gay Star News and Planet Romeo). Websites targeting domestic audiences, such as Queer Lapis and Justice for Sisters, however, remain accessible in Malaysia.
  • As websites require a lot of set-up time and resources, LGBTIQ people and organizations in Malaysia commonly use apps instead, namely Telegram and WhatsApp, to connect with each other, self-organize, and share local language-specific content.

Russia 

Background

Russia has enacted numerous draconian laws in recent years, resulting in the deterioration of the human rights situation in the country. Perhaps the most infamous is the law “For the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Promoting the Denial of Traditional Family Values,” also known as the “anti-gay propaganda” law, which has further harmed members of the LGBTIQ community.[39] The adoption of this law at the federal level occurred not long after similar laws were enacted elsewhere. The city of St. Petersburg, for example, passed a law against “homosexual propaganda” in March 2012, which criminalizes “public action aimed at propagandizing sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism, and transgenderism among minors.”[40] The European Court of Human Rights declared in 2017 that “anti-gay propaganda” laws are discriminatory and that “by adopting such laws, the authorities reinforce stigma and prejudice and encourage homophobia.”[41] 

Russia’s shrinking civic space has resulted in a rise in pro-democracy protests. These protests have involved LGBTIQ people and organizations, contributing to their increased visibility in Russian society, but this visibility also puts individuals at greater risk.[42] Homophobic groups have used the adoption of “anti-gay propaganda laws” at regional and federal levels as justification for perpetrating acts of violence.[43] In particular, the homophobic group Occupy Pedophilia, which by 2014 had approximately forty branches across Russia, is known for finding LGBTIQ Russians on the Internet and luring them to meet under the pretense of a date, then recording the humiliation and beating of these individuals for later posting online.[44] Activists working to promote human rights and democracy are doing so in a context of declining political opportunities and increasing peril, as evidenced by the September 2020 poisoning of Alexei Navalny, a pro-democracy activist.[45] 

In some of Russia’s quasi-autonomous republics, the assault against LGBTIQ communities has become even more violent. An anti-LGBTIQ state-sanctioned “purge” in the mainly-Muslim region of Chechnya began in March 2017 with the aim of eradicating LGBTIQ individuals.[46] In 2019, activists reported a renewed crackdown in Chechnya, including the use of surveillance and entrapment tactics through dating apps to arrest and torture suspected LGBTIQ Chechens.[47] Sean Howell, the co-founder of Hornet, a gay dating application known to be used in Chechnya, stated that “[Hornet has] 14,000 users in Chechnya and it was the most brutal crackdown we saw.” In response to the crackdown, Hornet sent out warnings to its users in the region and, during severe circumstances, advised them not to use the app.[48] Howell further added that “individuals, family members, and maybe even the police went online looking for gay and bisexual men [to entrap them].”[49]

Ongoing threats to the lives of LGBTIQ rights activists have undermined their ability to organize and engage in collective action. Those living outside of urban areas like St. Petersburg or Moscow face even greater threats, because in these smaller cities and towns, governments are more able to focus their efforts on tracking, harassing, and punishing LGBTIQ individuals. These attacks have left many with no choice but to self-censor and to have pessimistic attitudes toward the future of LGBTIQ rights in Russia. In effect, LGBTIQ communities are forced to remain quiet in the face of widespread violence and persecution.[50] 

Another considerable stressor is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has isolated LGBTIQ individuals from the in-person social groups that serve as emotional support and often take the place of family and friends who may have rejected their gender and sexual identity.[51] Challenges also remain even after advocacy and support services moved online. For example, the organizers of the LGBTIQ-friendly festival “Znakravenstvafest” (which translates to “sign of equality”) hosted their event over Zoom due to the pandemic, but experienced fears of prosecution under the federal anti-gay propaganda law should they admit an attendee under the age of eighteen.[52] Nevertheless, activists have continued to put pressure on the Russian government to stop the targeted violence against LGBTIQ people, and to provide legal, financial, and advocacy support to LGBTIQ communities, including by signing petitions and launching campaigns with international human rights organizations.

Figure 3: Timeline of selected LGBTIQ events in Russia

Key Findings

  • State-sponsored censorship targeting or affecting LGBTIQ populations has largely been driven by an infamous law known as the “anti-gay propaganda” law, which purports to protect minors and the so-called “traditional family.” Claims of pornography are often used to crack down on any media containing LGBTIQ content.
  • In response to escalating persecution (e.g., in Chechnya), many LGBTIQ organizations have been forced to shut down, limit their online presence, or practice self-censorship. Anxiety over personal safety has resulted in LGBTIQ people remaining quiet in the face of widespread attacks.
  • Digital literacy skills were identified as some of the essential skills needed by LGBTIQ individuals to stay safe in Russia (e.g., to preserve one’s anonymity online, remove messages and search history, and use encrypted messaging applications). The need is most acute in remote areas where attacks against LGBTIQ individuals are intensifying.
  • Thirty-two unique LGBTIQ-related URLs were blocked in Russia. Many of these URLs included news media, cultural, and human rights sites. Most websites, however, presented blocking less than two percent of times tested, while only `bluesystem.ru` and `deti-404.com` presented blocking more than 70 percent of times tested.
  • ISPs in Russia implement standardized censorship methods. Most ISPs in Russia blocked LGBTIQ-related URLs through the use of HTTP transparent proxies, while a smaller number of ISPs served block pages though DNS hijacking. 

Iran

Background

Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian authorities pursued “a deeper regulatory penetration of [its] society” by subjecting social spaces and private morality to state control,[53] including by imposing strict restrictions on women and criminalizing same-sex relations.[54] To do so, the authorities drew on a discourse of “othering” the West and the Pahlavi dynasty, thereby condemning practices considered to be associated with them (e.g., homosexuality). This discourse resonated with Iranians who blamed the Shah for allowing the ‘infiltration’ of Western influences, such as same-sex practices, despite the fact that these practices had existed in pre-modern Iran.[55]

As any extramarital sex is illegal in Iran, it is difficult for individuals to explore their sexuality outside the bounds of different-sex marriage. Furthermore, sex between women is criminalized, while sex between men can be punished with the death penalty under certain circumstances.[56] Amnesty International estimated in 2017 that five thousand gay, bisexual, and lesbian individuals have been executed there since the 1979 revolution.[57] Although confirming the frequency of executions for same-sex conduct is challenging, some Western observers maintained that the number of executions appeared to be decreasing.[58] Nevertheless, a 2019 “UN Report of the Secretary General on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran” expressed concerns over continued discrimination and punishment against LGBTIQ individuals, and urged the government to eliminate all forms of discrimination and adopt legislation that protects LGBTIQ communities.[59]

A strict government-enforced system of social, religious, and legal norms that is defined by Shi’a jurisprudence has contributed to human rights violations against LGBTIQ individuals. Religious leaders in Iran have long demonized members of LGBTIQ communities. Then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made an infamous statement in 2007 in New York that, “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like you do in your country.” Since then, Iran has acknowledged the existence of LGBTIQ individuals, albeit portraying them as people who are suffering from “illness and malady.”[60] Accordingly, the authorities have recommended various ‘treatments’ for LGBTIQ individuals, including psychotherapy, so-called “conversion therapy,” and sex reassignment surgery.[61] 

The absence of education about gender and sexuality in Iran results in a gap in people’s knowledge regarding sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. According to one interviewee, the lack of credible sources for researching LGBTIQ issues and the circulation of misinformation have led some people to think that they are transgender when they are likely to be gay.[62] Additionally, families often do not have sufficient information or resources to support their LGBTIQ loved ones, which can lead to bullying and violence, while healthcare professionals may also be misinformed or misleading on how to appropriately care for LGBTIQ people.[63]

In 1967, the exiled ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa that clarified that there is no religious restriction on sex reassignment surgery. The current regime subsidizes sex reassignment surgery, paying up to half of the high expenses of both surgery and treatment.[64] For legal and medical authorities in Iran, therefore, sex reassignment is explicitly framed as “the cure for a diseased abnormality” and a “religio-legally sanctioned option for heteronormalizing people with same-sex desires and practices.”[65] As a result, gay and lesbian individuals are often forced by their families and the authorities into having gender reassignment surgery or undergoing so-called conversion therapy. Many LGBTIQ individuals have fled the country to avoid suffering from these treatments.[66] 

Given the repressive climate against LGBTIQ communities in Iran, Iranian LGBTIQ rights advocates can typically be found in the diaspora.[67] Some of these advocates are members of the more secular parts of Iranian society, while others belong to religious groups who are seeking interpretations of the holy texts that are more inclusive and tolerant. Thus far, however, the number of scholarly works documenting Iranian LGBTIQ rights movements has remained relatively small, which indicates that more needs to be done to study LGBTIQ social movements at home and abroad.[68] 

Figure 4: Timeline of selected LGBTIQ events in Iran

Key Findings

  • A strict government-enforced system of social, religious, and legal norms that is defined by Shi’a jurisprudence has contributed to human rights violations against LGBTIQ individuals. The absence of education about gender and sexuality in Iran results in a gap in people’s knowledge regarding sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.
  • LGBTIQ individuals are targeted through the Internet in the form of surveillance and harassment, especially since the passing of the Computer Crimes Law, which significantly expanded state surveillance and censorship powers. Entrapment through dating apps is also a persistent concern.
  • Seventy-five unique LGBTIQ-related URLs were found blocked in Iran. Blocked URLs in Iran include many human rights, cultural, and news websites covering LGBTIQ-related topics. Many blogging platforms are also blocked; therefore, blogs discussing LGBTIQ topics hosted on these platforms are inaccessible as well.
  • Internet censorship in Iran can be considered as both advanced and erratic. It is advanced because Iranian ISPs use Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology and generally implement SNI-based filtering. Iranian ISPs also started blocking “DNS over TLS” (or DoT). And it is erratic because ISPs alternate between blocking and unblocking sites over time, which may make Internet censorship more subtle and harder to detect.
  • Widespread censorship has harmed the ability of LGBTIQ people to organize and advocate for human rights, as well as access critical information about health and well-being. The push towards establishing a national Internet (the National Information Network) and adopting national messaging apps (e.g., Soroush and Bale) are projected to further restrict online freedom.

Saudi Arabia

Background

Saudi Arabia has a high Internet penetration rate (93 percent as of January 2020), and Saudis are known to be some of the most active social media users in the region.[69] Yet, strict limits imposed by the monarchy on information and services that can be accessed online has resulted in the country being ranked as “Not Free” by Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2020 ranking.[70] Internet censorship in the Kingdom follows a pattern seen among many Muslim-majority countries, with censorship policies that are based on state-sponsored interpretations of the Islamic faith.[71] For example, websites deemed to host harmful, illegal, indecent, or anti-Islamic content, as well as websites of minority faith groups (e.g., Shi’a Muslims), secular ideologies, and atheist groups are blocked in Saudi Arabia.[72] Overtly political Internet content is censored, while the government is also sensitive to online criticism against its royal family or its allies among the Gulf states.[73] Saudi Arabia’s politicization of social spaces, with its “with us or against us” approach, has created limited spaces for alternative or diverse voices.[74] 

Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, has portrayed himself as a reformer, while simultaneously cracking down on dissent.[75] An LGBTIQ former senior official for the Saudi Ministry of Media, who fled the country in 2019, stated in an interview with TIME magazine that the arrests of human rights activists and writers in Saudi Arabia were likely due to the regime’s fears that a revolution could arise from the changes that MBS was making.[76] Threat of imprisonment and further controls over the media could therefore be seen as the regime’s way of showing that those opposed to MBS would be silenced. The situation in the country remains challenging today for those who espouse views that are perceived to be contrary to the regime’s or are generally engaged in activism.

In recent years, journalists, dissidents, and rights activists have been subjected to increasing attacks. The Saudi government was globally condemned in 2018 for the murder of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi, perpetrated by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The Citizen Lab has published several reports showing that Saudi dissidents and a New York Times journalist had been targeted by NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, and that these attacks were linked to Saudi Arabia.[77] Attacks have also impacted minorities, including members of LGBTIQ communities. In 2019, five men accused of same-sex relations, who were part of a larger group that protested against the marginalization of the Shi’a community, were beheaded.[78] Eleven women’s rights activists were detained in 2018, some of whom were reportedly tortured in detention, including with electric shocks and whippings.[79] Three of these activists were released on bail on March 28, 2020.[80] 

Timeline of selected events in Saudi Arabia
Figure 5: Timeline of selected events in Saudi Arabia

Key Findings

  • LGBTIQ website censorship in Saudi Arabia is implemented alongside many other rights violations. Homosexuality and non-normative gender expression, for example, are criminalized in the country.
  • Self-censorship is common among LGBTIQ communities in Saudi Arabia due to threats of harassment, intimidation, and arrests. Attacks against LGBTIQ individuals are often perpetrated by those affiliated with the ruling class and by the conservative members of Saudi society.
  • LGBTIQ advocates and individuals have had to exist and work covertly in the country to avoid prosecution. Entrapment, especially through dating apps, remains a serious risk.
  • Twenty-six unique LGBTIQ-related URLs were found blocked in Saudi Arabia. Most of these include internationally-relevant LGBTIQ sites, although a few local LGBTIQ sites were seen blocked as well.
  • All ISPs in Saudi Arabia consistently implement Internet censorship in the same way, regardless of ISP. Block pages served by ISPs in Saudi Arabia contain the tag “Server: Wirefilter” in the response, suggesting that the filtering was implemented through the use of WireFilter, a Saudi Internet filtering tool.

United Arab Emirates

Background

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates—Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Quwain—and Sharia law forms the basis of the country’s legal regime.[81] However, as the UAE’s Penal Code excludes rules relating to Hudud (boundaries, borders, or limits), Qisas (retaliation in kind) and Diyah (blood money or ransom), the judiciary is in charge of interpreting and elaborating legal rules from the original traditional texts.[82] The Penal Code also does not recommend a specific school of Sharia jurisprudence for an Islamic jurist’s interpretation. Therefore, the Sharia rules that are applied are chosen depending on the religious affiliation of specific Emirates or of the individual judge.[83] 

The UAE has been referred to as “one of the most liberal countries in the Gulf,” although political parties are banned and both citizens and non-citizens (the latter of which comprise about 90 percent of the population) have limited civil liberties.[84] A 2018 report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) outlined the UAE’s dire human rights situation. The report highlights restrictions on freedom of expression in the country, including imprisonment and trials for those who criticize government institutions, as well as the use of torture against prisoners, discrimination against women, and lack of protection for foreign workers.[85] The OHCHR has repeatedly condemned the conditions of detention and called for the immediate release of jailed human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor, in addition to the release of academic Nasser bin Ghaith.[86] 

Despite declaring 2019 as the “Year of Tolerance,” the UAE’s rulers continued their crackdown on dissent, including by continuing to hold activists who had completed their sentences, without a clear legal basis.[87] The Citizen Lab has also uncovered multiple targeted digital attack campaigns against Ahmed Mansoor, using NSO Group’s government-exclusive Pegasus product in 2016, Hacking Team’s Remote Control System in 2012, and FinFisher’s FinSpy spyware in 2011.[88] The high-cost nature of these tools serves as an indicator that the UAE government is the likely operator behind the targeting.

The UAE has a booming tourism industry, contributing more than 10 percent to the nation’s economy.[89] Over the years, the UAE has faced issues related to human trafficking and sex work, with news reports estimating that there are at least thirty-thousand sex workers in Dubai alone.[90] The UAE has routinely portrayed itself to wealthy Westerners as ultra-modern and advanced, while oppressing their own population and low-income foreign workers with strict policing of public spaces and harsh punishments against those who challenge the status quo.[91] As the UAE’s economy is dependent on foreign workers, the authorities operate on what has been described as a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which enables LGBTIQ expatriates to continue to live in the country.[92] Our interviewees expect for this policy to continue in the coming years.

Interviews with local LGBTIQ individuals have revealed that, while the state officially condemns same-sex relations, LGBTIQ events and parties do exist and are publicly, though not widely, announced on Facebook, especially those taking place in Dubai. Foreign LGBTIQ entertainers, such as Mashrou L’eila and Sam Smith, are also permitted to perform. According to members of an active LGBTIQ community engagement and support group: “People know that LGBT [people] exist [in the UAE], but it is not being talked about publicly.”[93] According to interviewees LI & CS, who are active members of LGBTIQ communities in the UAE, the country’s relatively small population (approximately 10 million as of 2020) has led people to assume that the government knows about most events taking place in the country.[94] Yet, there is also the public perception that, although the authorities are typically aware of everything that takes place, they choose to ignore most of them, at least for the time being. 

Timeline of selected events in United Arab Emirates
Figure 6: Timeline of selected events in United Arab Emirates

Key Findings

  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been referred to as “one of the most liberal countries in the Gulf,” although political parties are banned and its population has limited civil liberties. A 2018 UN report recorded numerous rights violations, including imprisonment and trials for those who criticize government institutions, as well as the use of torture against prisoners, discrimination against women, and lack of protection for foreign workers.
  • While there is some variation across the different emirates, the UAE restricts freedom of expression online by blocking content considered prohibited by Sharia law, perceived as blasphemous, offensive or contrary to the Islamic faith, and/or considered liberal, secular, and atheistic.
  • Because of the UAE’s highly controlled online environment, self-censorship is common. Furthermore, our interviewees indicated that many within the LGBTIQ community believe that they are being surveilled.
  • Fifty-one unique LGBTIQ-related URLs were found blocked in the UAE. Very few local websites covering LGBTIQ topics exist in the UAE. Therefore, local LGBTIQ communities depend on foreign LGBTIQ websites to access relevant information, but many of those are blocked.
  • We detected the use of filtering technologies to block websites in the UAE, including by Saudi Arabia’s WireFilter and Canada’s Netsweeper.

[1] UN Human Rights Council, The Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet, A/HRC/38/L.10/Rev.1, (July 6, 2018), https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G18/215/67/pdf/G1821567.pdf?OpenElement.

[2] International Covenant on Social and Political Rights, December 16, 1966, U.N.T.S. 999, https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx.

[3] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, March 23, 1966, U.N.T.S. 14668, https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-4&chapter=4&clang=_en.

[4] Mozilla defines network throttling as “an intentional slowing down of internet speed. In web performance, network throttling, or network condition emulation, it is used to emulate low bandwidth conditions experienced by likely a large segment of a site’s target user base.” See: “Network Throttling – MDN Web Docs Glossary: Definitions of Web-Related Terms,” MDN, accessed April 20, 2021, https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Glossary/Network_throttling.

[5] Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), OONI Probe, https://ooni.org/install/ 

[6] Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), OONI Web Connectivity test, https://ooni.org/nettest/web-connectivity/ 

[7] “Chechnya LGBT: Dozens ‘Detained in New Gay Purge,’” BBC News, January 14, 2019, sec. Europe, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-46871801; Shima Houshyar, LGBT Rights in Iran (Middle East Report Online, October 21, 2015), https://merip.org/2015/10/lgbt-rights-in-iran/; Interview with a digital protection expert in the region, October 27, 2020.

[8] Autonomous System Networks (ASNs) are logical divisions given to computer networks on the Internet. They are officially registered and given to commercial entities such as telecom companies, Internet service providers (ISPs), educational institutions, or large businesses among others. In our analysis, AS networks are used to organize where filtering is observed. The AS networks where annotations appear regularly indicates which service providers have filtering policies in place.

[9] “Asia Internet Stats by Country and 2020 Population Statistics: Indonesia”; Simon Kemp, Digital 2020: Indonesia (DataReportal, 2020), https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2020-indonesia.

[10] Maria Platt, Sharyn Graham Davies, and Linda Rae Bennett, “Contestations of Gender, Sexuality and Morality in Contemporary Indonesia,” Asian Studies Review 42, no. 1 (January 2, 2018): 6, https://doi.org/10.1080/10357823.2017.1409698; Freedom House, “Indonesia,” in Freedom on the Net 2019 (Freedom House, 2020), https://freedomhouse.org/country/indonesia/freedom-net/2020.

[11] Jacob Poushter and Nicholas O. Kent, The Global Divide on Homosexuality Persists (Pew Research Center, June 2020): 18, https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2020/06/25/global-divide-on-homosexuality-persists/.

[12] Being LGBT in Asia: Indonesia Country Report (Bangkok: United Nations Development Programme, USAID, 2014): 35, https://www.undp.org/content/dam/rbap/docs/Research%20&%20Publications/hiv_aids/rbap-hhd-2014-blia-indonesia-country-report-english.pdf.

[13] Riska Carolina (sexuality law specialist and part of the Support Group and Resource Center on Sexuality Studies (SRGC)), in discussion with the interviewer, July 22, 2020; Rebecca Nyuei (co-founder of Jaringan Transgender Indonesia (JTID)), in discussion with the interviewer, September 13, 2020.

[14] Carolina, interview; Nyuei, interview.

[15] Graeme Reid, LGBTQ Inequality and Vulnerability in the Pandemic (Human Rights Watch, June 18, 2020), https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/18/lgbtq-inequality-and-vulnerability-pandemic.

[16] “Stigma and Discrimination: LGBTQ+,” Reprodukasi, accessed March 26, 2021, https://www.reprodukasi.org//en/stigma-and-discrimination-lgbtq.

[17] Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, “Shifting Trends of Islamism and Islamist Practices in Malaysia, 1957–2017,” Southeast Asian Studies 7, no. 3 (2018): 368, https://doi.org/10.20495/seas.7.3_363.

[18] Shuaib, Farid S. “The Islamic Legal System in Malaysia.” Washington International Law Journal 21, no. 1 (January 1, 2012): 85. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/267981974.pdf.

[19]Hamid, “Shifting Trends of Islamism and Islamist Practices in Malaysia, 1957–2017,” 367.

[20] Valerie A. Earnshaw et al., “Stigma Toward Men Who Have Sex with Men Among Future Healthcare Providers in Malaysia: Would More Interpersonal Contact Reduce Prejudice?,” AIDS and Behavior 20, no. 1 (January 1, 2016): 98–106, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10461-015-1168-x.

[22] Alok Gupta, This Alien Legacy: The Origins of “Sodomy” Laws in British Colonialism (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2008): 50, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/lgbt1208web.pdf.

[23] Sarah Gnu, “Some Asian Governments Claim LGBTQ Culture Is a Western Invention: Here’s Why That’s Garbage,” Vice News, May 6, 2019, https://www.vice.com/en/article/kzmpyy/some-asian-governments-claim-lgbtq-culture-is-a-western-invention-heres-why-thats-garbage.

[24] Bernama, “We Are Free to Reject LGBT, Other Unsuitable Western Influences – Dr Mahathir,” New Straits Times, June 18, 2019, https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2019/06/497206/we-are-free-reject-lgbt-other-unsuitable-western-influences-dr-mahathir; “Malaysia Cannot Accept Same-Sex Marriage, Says Mahathir,” The Straits Times, September 21, 2018, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/malaysia-cannot-accept-same-sex-marriage-says-mahathir.

[25] Cai Wilkinson et al., “LGBT Rights in Southeast Asia: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?,” IAFOR Journal of Asian Studies 3, no. 1 (Summer 2017): 5–17, https://doi.org/10.22492/ijas.3.1.01.

[26] Baden Offord, “Arrested Development! Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia,” 8.

[27] Thilaga (queer activist and founder of Justice for Sisters), in discussion with the interviewer, July 29, 2020.

[28] Celine Fernandez, “Malaysians Debate Ban of Gay Rights Festival,” Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2011, sec. Southeast Asia Real Time, https://www.wsj.com/articles/BL-SEAB-208.

[29] Rozanna Latiff, “In Muslim Malaysia, Uproar over LGBT Groups at Women’s Day March,” Reuters, March 10, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-malaysia-lgbt/in-muslim-malaysia-uproar-over-lgbt-groups-at-womens-day-march-idUSKBN1QR06K.

[30] Ramon Mendos, State-Sponsored Homophobia, 62.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Nadia Gideon, Thilaga, and Pang Khee Teik, “Curing Discrimination: Making Healthcare Inclusive for LGBT People” (Queer Lapis, October 18, 2018), https://www.queerlapis.com/curing-discrimination/.

[33] “Malaysia: Court Ruling Sets Back Transgender Rights,” Human Rights Watch, October 8, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/10/08/malaysia-court-ruling-sets-back-transgender-rights; Jonathon Egerton-Peters et al., Injustice Exposed: The Criminalisation of Transgender People and Its Impacts (London: Human Dignity Trust, May 17, 2019): 25, https://www.humandignitytrust.org/wp-content/uploads/resources/Injustice-Exposed-the-criminsalisation-of-trans-people.pdf.

[34] Neela Ghoshal, “I’m Scared to Be a Woman” (Human Rights Watch, September 25, 2014): 1, http://features.hrw.org/features/HRW_reports_2014/Im_Scared_to_Be_a_Woman/index.html.

[35] Nadia Gideon, Thilaga, and Pang Khee Teik, “Curing Discrimination.”

[36] Vinodh Pillai, “Blaming LGBT People for Covid-19 Is Spreading Fast,” Queer Lapis, April 5, 2020, https://www.queerlapis.com/blaming-lgbt-people-for-covid19/.

[37] Leyla, “Under MCO, Malaysian Queer People Face Family Violence at Home,” Queer Lapis, April 4, 2020, https://www.queerlapis.com/violence-under-mco/.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Alexey Pichugin and Anastasia Shevchenko, The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: Advancing a Political Agenda by Crushing Dissent (Perseus Strategies, 2019): 87, https://www.perseus-strategies.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/The-Kremlins-Political-Prisoners-May-2019.pdf.

[40] Miriam Elder, “St Petersburg Bans ‘Homosexual Propaganda,’” The Guardian, March 12, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/mar/12/st-petersburg-bans-homosexual-propaganda.

[41] Bayev and Others v. Russia, No. 67667/09, 44092/12 and 56717/12 (European Court of Human Rights June 20, 2017), https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22itemid%22:[%22001-174422%22]}.

[42] Current Time, Russian LGBT Activists Detained At St. Petersburg Protest (RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty, 2019), https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-lgbt-rights-protest/29889686.html.

[43]Radzhana Buyantueva, “LGBT Rights Activism and Homophobia in Russia,” Journal of Homosexuality 65, no. 4 (March 21, 2018): 474, https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2017.1320167.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] “Chechnya,” Rainbow Railroad, 2019, https://www.rainbowrailroad.org/what-we-do/chechnya.

[47] “Chechnya LGBT: Dozens ‘Detained in New Gay Purge.’”

[48] Howell, interview.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Buyantueva, “LGBT Rights Activism and Homophobia in Russia,” 476.

[51] Amie Bishop, Vulnerability Amplified: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on LGBTIQ People (Outright International, May 7, 2020): 45, https://outrightinternational.org/sites/default/files/COVIDsReportDesign_FINAL_LR_0.pdf.

[52] Isobell Cockerell, “Under Lockdown, LGBTQ Russians Were More Isolated than Ever. Then, the Zoom Parties Started,” Coda Story, June 4, 2020, https://www.codastory.com/disinformation/russia-lgbtq-zoom/.

[53] Katarzyna Korycki and Abouzar Nasirzadeh, “Desire Recast: The Production of Gay Identity in Iran,” Journal of Gender Studies 25, no. 1 (January 2, 2016): 50–65, https://doi.org/10.1080/09589236.2014.889599.

[54] Afsaneh Najmabadi, Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards, 1st ed. (Berkeley: UC Press, 2005), 57.

[55] Wayne Martino and Jón Ingvar Kjaran, “The Politics of Recognizability: Giving an Account of Iranian Gay Men’s Lives under Repressive Conditions of Sexuality Governance,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 51, no. 1 (February 2019): 27, https://doi.org/10.1017/S002074381800048X.

[56] Simon Forbes, “The Reconstruction of Homosexuality and Its Consequences in Contemporary Iran,” The SOAS Journal of Postgraduate Research 10 (2017), https://core.ac.uk/reader/132197268.

[57] Rachel Banning-Lover, “Where Are the Most Difficult Places in the World to Be Gay or Transgender?,” The Guardian, March 1, 2017, sec. Working in development, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/mar/01/where-are-the-most-difficult-places-in-the-world-to-be-gay-or-transgender-lgbt.

[58] Mohammadrasool Yadegarfard, “How Are Iranian Gay Men Coping with Systematic Suppression Under Islamic Law? A Qualitative Study,” Sexuality & Culture 23, no. 4 (December 1, 2019): 1250–73, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-019-09613-7; Country Policy and Information Note – Iran: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity or Expression (London: United Kingdom’s Home Office, June 2019): 7, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/810845/CPIN_-_Iran_-_SOGI_-_v3.0__June_2019__EXT.PDF.

[59] UN General Assembly, Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report of the Secretary General, A/74/273 (August 2, 2019), https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N19/243/59/pdf/N1924359.pdf.

[60] International Railroad for Queer Refugees, Iranian Queer Watch Report (Planet Romeo Foundation, September 2018): 4, https://irqr.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/IQW-Report.pdf; Saeed Kamali Dehghan, “Iranian Human Rights Official Describes Homosexuality as an Illness,” The Guardian, March 14, 2013, sec. World news, https://www.theguardian.com/world/iran-blog/2013/mar/14/iran-official-homosexuality-illness.

[61] Catherine Bevilacqua, Elizabeth Harper, and Catherine Kent, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: Iran’s International Human Rights Obligations, Legal Research Series (University of Essex, Human Rights in Iran Unit, June 2014): 5, https://www1.essex.ac.uk/hri/documents/briefing-sexual-orientation.pdf.

[62] Amin, interview.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Farrah Jafari, “Transsexuality under Surveillance in Iran: Clerical Control of Khomeini’s Fatwas,” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 10, no. 2 (2014): 31–51, https://doi.org/10.2979/jmiddeastwomstud.10.2.31; Mehrnaz Samimi, “Fatwa Allows Sex Changes in Iran, but Stigma Remains,” Al-Monitor, October 7, 2013, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/ru/originals/2013/10/iran-subsidizes-sex-change-surgery.html.

[65] Afsaneh Najmabadi, “Verdicts of Science, Rulings of Faith: Transgender/Sexuality in Contemporary Iran,” Social Research 78, no. 2 (2011): 533–56.

[66] Ali Hamedani, “The Gay People Pushed to Change Their Gender,” BBC News, November 5, 2014, sec. Magazine, https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29832690.

[67] Bashir Tofangsazi, “From the Islamic Republic to the Green Movement: Social Movements in Contemporary Iran,” Sociology Compass 14, no. 1 (January 2020): 10, https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12746.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Kemp, “Digital 2020,”; Nigel Stanger, Noorah Alnaghaimshi, and Erika Pearson, How Do Saudi Youth Engage with Social Media? (First Monday, April 10, 2017), https://firstmonday.org/article/view/7102/6101.

[70] Freedom House, “Saudi Arabia,” in Freedom on the Net 2020.

[71] Noman, In the Name of God: Faith-Based Internet Censorship in Majority Muslim Countries.

[72] Ibid.

[73] W. Sean McLaughlin, “The Use of the Internet for Political Action by Non-State Dissident Actors in the Middle East,” First Monday 8, no. 11 (October 27, 2007), https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v0i0.1791; Rafid Fatani, Securing Internet Rights in Saudi Arabia, Global Information Society Watch (Association for Progressive Communications, 2011), https://www.giswatch.org/en/country-report/internet-rights/securing-internet-rights-saudi-arabia.

[74] Email exchange between OutRight and Kevin Schumacher, June 17, 2020; Hincks, “A Gay Saudi Journalist Detained While Seeking Asylum in Australia Speaks Out.”

[75] Bessma Momami, “What Happened to the ‘Reformist’ Ways of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince?,” The Globe and Mail, May 22, 2018, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-what-happened-to-the-reformist-ways-of-saudi-arabias-crown-prince/.

[76] Joseph Hincks, “A Gay Saudi Journalist Detained While Seeking Asylum in Australia Speaks Out,” Time, December 17, 2019, https://time.com/5751229/saudi-arabia-gay-journalists-australia/.

[77] Bill Marczak et al., Stopping the Press: New York Times Journalist Targeted by Saudi-Linked Pegasus Spyware Operator (Toronto: The Citizen Lab, January 28, 2020) under “Key Findings,” https://citizenlab.ca/2020/01/stopping-the-press-new-york-times-journalist-targeted-by-saudi-linked-pegasus-spyware-operator/; Bill Marczak et al., The Kingdom Came to Canada: How Saudi-Linked Digital Espionage Reached Canadian Soil (Toronto: The Citizen Lab, October 1, 2018), https://citizenlab.ca/2018/10/the-kingdom-came-to-canada-how-saudi-linked-digital-espionage-reached-canadian-soil/; Bill Marczak, John Scott-Railton, and Ronald Deibert, NSO Group Infrastructure Linked to Targeting of Amnesty International and Saudi Dissident (Toronto: The Citizen Lab, July 31, 2018), https://citizenlab.ca/2018/07/nso-spyware-targeting-amnesty-international/.

[78] Tamara Qiblawi and Ghazl Balkiz, “Exclusive: Saudi Arabia Said They Confessed. Court Filings Show Some Executed Men Protested Their Innocence,” CNN, April 26, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/26/middleeast/saudi-executions-court-documents-intl/index.html.

[79] Ruth Michaelson, “Saudi Arabia Bails Three Women on Trial for Human Rights Activism,” The Guardian, March 28, 2019, sec. World news, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/28/saudi-arabia-releases-three-human-rights-activists-on-bail; Saudi Arabia: Abusive Charges Against Women Activists (Beirut: Human Rights Watch, March 21, 2019), https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/03/21/saudi-arabia-abusive-charges-against-women-activists.

[80] Michaelson, “Saudi Arabia Bails Three Women on Trial for Human Rights Activism.”

[81] Mendos, State-Sponsored Homophobia, 29

[82]Al-Muhairi, Butti Sultan Butti Ali. “The Islamisation of Laws in the UAE: The Case of the Penal Code.” Arab Law Quarterly 11, no. 4 (1996): 369–369. https://doi.org/10.2307/3381546.

[83] Al-Muhairi, “The Islamisation of Laws in the UAE,” 369.

[84] “United Arab Emirates Country Profile,” BBC News, August 31, 2020, sec. Middle East, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14703998; Freedom House, “United Arab Emirates,” in Freedom on the Net 2020.

[85] UN Human Rights Council, “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: United Arab Emirates,” HRC/38/14 (2018), https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G18/107/40/PDF/G1810740.pdf.

[86] “UN Raises Concern over Human Rights in UAE,” Al Jazeera News, January 10, 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/01/raises-concern-human-rights-uae-180110045834391.html.

[87] UAE: Dangerous Disregard for Rule of Law (Human Rights Watch, January 14, 2020), https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/01/14/uae-dangerous-disregard-rule-law.

[88] Bill Marczak and John Scott-Railton, The Million Dollar Dissident: NSO Group’s IPhone Zero-Days Used against a UAE Human Rights Defender (The Citizen Lab, August 24, 2016) under “Executive Summary,” https://citizenlab.ca/2016/08/million-dollar-dissident-iphone-zero-day-nso-group-uae/; Morgan Marquis-Boire, Backdoors Are Forever: Hacking Team and the Targeting of Dissent (The Citizen Lab, October 10, 2012) under “Introduction,” https://citizenlab.ca/2012/10/backdoors-are-forever-hacking-team-and-the-targeting-of-dissent/.

[89] World Travel and Tourism Council. “Travel & Tourism Reaches 11% of UAE Economy, Says New WTTC Research,” March 22, 2019. https://wttc.org/News-Article/Travel-Tourism-reaches-11-percent-of-UAE-economy-says-new-WTTC-research.

[90] Thessa Lageman, “Dubai in United Arab Emirates a Centre of Human Trafficking and Prostitution,” The Sydney Morning Herald, January 20, 2016, https://www.smh.com.au/world/dubai-in-united-arab-emirates-an-epicentre-of-human-trafficking-and-prostitution-20160115-gm6mdl.html.

[91] Email correspondence between OutRight and Kevin Schumacher, June 17, 2020.

[92] Ibid.

[93] LI and CS, (active members of LGBTIQ+ communities in the UAE), in discussion with the interviewer, August 6, 2020.

[94] Worldometer. “United Arab Emirates Population (2021) – Worldometer,” 2021. https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/united-arab-emirates-population/.