Two men in Saudi Arabia were sentenced to 7,000 lashes for sodomy two weeks ago, and their punishment has been carried out.
The case of the two men was first reported in the Western press on October 5 by Agence France-Presse, which based its dispatch on a report in the Saudi daily newspaper Al Okaz.
An independent translation of the Al Okaz report made by Hossein Alizadeh of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), and supplied to Gay City News, quoted the newspaper as saying, "The Corrections Office of the Bahha region carried out a court order to lash two young men on Thursday, October 2. Each of them received 7,000 lashes in multiple stages... A large group of police patrols were present at the scene of the punishment in Justice Square, which was also the site of the lashing of another Saudi citizen who received 470 lashes for drug dealing and resisting arrest. After the lashes were administered, the convicts were taken to jail to serve the rest of their jail time."
Alizadeh told Gay City News, "The Arabic text implies that the two men were accused of having sex with each other," a more specific characterization than AFP's, which said only that the two were accused of sodomy.
Alizadeh said that Al Okaz was the only Saudi newspaper to publish this story, adding, "The reason Saudi sources are tight-lipped about the incident is the religious belief that talking about immoral behavior - fahsha - is a tacit approval of it and a form of promoting immorality, so in most cases involving sexual offenses Saudis are reluctant to publish details of such stories."
Dr. Allen Keller, an M..D. who is director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture and associate professor at the NYU School of Medicine, when asked about the sentence of 7,000 lashes, said, "This barbaric punishment is clearly life-threatening."
Keller said that 7,000 lashes "could obliterate the skin, causing secondary infections - and depending where on the body the lashes fell, could well cause a breakdown of the muscles called rahbdomyalisis, resulting in renal failure."
Keller went on to say that such a massive number of lashes could also result in intercranial bleeding, broken bones, and permanent severe pain and difficulty in walking.
Moreover, he added, "The massive scarring from such a lashing would serve as a persistent reminder of what had been experienced, causing a permanent trauma."
A psychiatrist colleague of Keller's at the Bellevue/NYU Torture Survivors Program, Dr. Hawthorne Smith - the program's clinical co-director - told Gay City News that a punishment of 7,000 lashes was "designed to obliterate the humanity of the person."
"Such a punishment would cause its victim to call into question the utility of living," Smith said, adding that 7,000 lashes "would break down the mind-body-spirit continuum. It's like 'Apocalypse Now' - 'The horror, the horror.'
"Homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia under Sharia law - which is the country's only legal code - and may be punished by death, usually by beheading.
Massive lashings are a not infrequent punishment for those accused of crimes related to homosexuality, or what the Saudi press, eschewing detail, often refers to as "shameful situations."
For example, after 110 men were arrested in a March, 2005 raid in Jeddah on what was described in Saudi publications as a "gay wedding," four of those arrested - two Saudis, one Yemeni, and a Jordanian - were each sentenced to 2,000 lashes and two years in jail.
A friend of one of those arrested in Jeddah denied that there was any "gay wedding" to Human Rights Watch, saying the gathering was a birthday party. Amnesty International said it believed the arrested men could well be prisoners of conscience, punished solely for their sexual orientation.
A month after the Jeddah arrests, the UK daily The Guardian reported, "Dozens of Saudi men caught dancing and 'behaving like women' at a party have been sentenced to a total of 14,200 lashes, after a trial held behind closed doors and without defense lawyers."
Saudi publications described the gathering as a "party of deviants," a pejorative euphemism for homosexuals.
An article about Saudi Arabia in the May 2007 issue of The Atlantic Monthly magazine by Nadya Labi, entitled "The Kingdom in the Closet," described widespread acts of homosexuality in the country and something of an underground homo culture. Labi ascribed same-sex conduct in large measure to the absence of opportunities for heterosexual sex due to the rigid segregation between men and women, in which dating or appearing in public together is forbidden.
Sexual segregation and the prohibitions against any form of homosexuality are enforced by the muttawwa'in, religious authorities employed by the government's Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.
Saudi Arabia is notorious for its adherence to Wahhabism, a puritanical strain of Islam.
The Atlantic article quoted one Saudi lesbian named Yasmin talking about life in that nation.
"'It's easier to be a lesbian than a heterosexual. There's an overwhelming number of people who turn to lesbianism,' Yasmin said, adding that the number of men in the kingdom who turn to gay sex is even greater. 'They're not really homosexual,' she said. 'They're like cell mates in prison.'"
Saudi same-sexers are sharply delineated by a "top-bottom" dichotomy, in which tops do not consider themselves homosexual.