In April, the tiny south-east nation of Brunei brought in strict new Islamic laws that made gay sex and adultery punishable by stoning to death.
The global backlash from the LGBTI community and human rights activists was as fierce as the new laws.
George Clooney and Sir Elton John spearheaded a boycott of nine luxury hotels in Europe and the US owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Elsewhere, companies such as STA Travel and Virgin Airlines severed ties with Royal Brunei Airlines.
The international condemnation worked. A month later, the Sultan of Brunei made a televised speech announcing the kingdom’s long-term moratorium on the death penalty would extend to the new penal code.
But there are still 14 countries and jurisdictions around the world where homosexuality is punishable by death – and about 20 more where LGBTI people risk penalties such as public caning, imprisonment, fines or compulsory counselling.
Most of these destinations, places such as Gaza and Yemen, attract relatively few Australian leisure or business travellers. But here are six others visited by hundreds of thousands of us every year that some travellers might want to scratch off their bucket list because of such laws.
Last year, Malaysia took 25th place in the World Economic Forum Development Index – a list that measures growth, development, social inclusion and intergenerational equity.
But when it comes to LGBTI rights, Malaysia is still in the dark ages. LGBTI people in Malaysia cannot serve in the military, marry or adopt. Anti-sodomy laws, used in 1988 to falsely convict then-opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim, carry sentences of up to 20 years prison, huge fines and public caning.
The most recent victims, a lesbian couple caught in a car in the conservative north-eastern state of Terengganu in 2018, were each caned six times and fined the equivalent of $1100.
United Arab Emirates
It’s got a reputation as the region’s party city, and has a thriving underground gay nightclub scene.
But make no mistake, homosexual activity in Dubai and every other square centimetre of the United Arab Emirates is illegal. Punishment can take the form of fines, deportation, hormone therapy and up to 14 years’ jail.
In 2008, after two female tourists were imprisoned for 30 days for engaging in public displays of affection at a Dubai beach, police formed a special task force to combat homosexuality in public.
Foreigners caught by these ‘gay police’ are normally deported. But in 2017, a Scottish man was arrested and charged after touching a man’s hip at a bar so as to not bump him and spill his drinks.
Emirati prosecutors sought a three-year prison sentence but the charges were eventually dropped after an international outcry.
Dubai has been in the news recently also after the wife of ruler Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein, reportedly fled to London. She is said to be in hiding, for fear of her life.
As the home of the al-Jazeera news network and host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar likes to project itself as a beacon of modernity and freedom in the Persian Gulf.
But its penal code prescribes up to three years jail for men who have sex with other men and prohibits LGBTI Qataris from campaigning for rights. Adultery is also illegal, punishable by 100 lashes or by death if a Qatari woman cheats on her husband with a foreigner.
In 1998, an American tourist in Qatar was sentenced to six months and 90 lashes for homosexual activity. In 2013, Qatar and all other Gulf Cooperative Countries agreed to discuss a proposal to establish a form of testing to ban homosexuals from visiting the country.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, which regulates the country’s massive expatriate labour industry, warns gay Filipinos they are not welcome in Qatar.
Homosexuality is not explicitly illegal in Egypt but law enforcement in the country that gave the world the pyramids and the sphinx has serious issues with gay men.
Since 2013, more than 300 gay or allegedly gay men in Egypt have been rounded up, charged and prosecuted for debauchery, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights. The same organisation also accused Egyptian police of electrocuting the genitals of gay detainees and raping them with batons.
There are also widespread reports of Egyptian police using gay dating apps such as Grindr to entrap gay men, including a Syrian refugee who was deported back to his war-torn country last year after getting caught in a gay police sting.
“Just for waving a rainbow flag you can get arrested,” a gay Egyptian man told NBC news last year.
Iran is a ridiculously beautiful country and its people are among the most hospitable in the world. But its government has serious gay issues.
Unlike Brunei, which experts say is unlikely to ever execute an LGBTI person, Iran does it regularly. According to Wikileaks, the country has executed between 4000 and 6000 homosexual men and women since sharia was implemented in 1979.
A recent victim, an unnamed 31-year-old man, was hanged in the south-western city of Kazeroon on January 10 after being found guilty of gay sex and kidnapping two 15 year-olds, the Iranian Students’ News Agency reported, adding “the citizens of Kazeroon expressed satisfaction and thanked the judiciary”.
A country that imprisons its own people for doing nothing more than liking tweets critical of government and prohibits women travelling overseas without a male guardian, Saudi Arabia also ranks as the most homophobic backwater on the planet.
Sodomy is punishable by flogging, imprisonment or public beheading. In one case, the executed prisoner’s corpse was crucified, according to Amnesty International.
In April, 37 people were executed in Saudi Arabia in a single day. Five of them had allegedly confessed – after being tortured by police – to having gay sex, according to court documents obtained by CNN.