Jail sentences over gay party

Amid all the political turmoil in Bahrain, there hasn't been much coverage of a court case last week in which 49 men were given jail sentences ranging from one to six months, in connection with a gay party.

About 200 people were initially arrested "due to immoral activities" on February 3 when police raided a celebration hall in Muharraq following a tip-off.

"After entering the room, a secret source said he saw a large group of people from the third sex wearing scandalous female clothing ... and immediately called in the city patrol, which then surrounded the hall and arrested the suspects," al-Ayam newspaper reported.

Bahrain has no specific law against homosexuality and tends to be more relaxed about it than some of the other Gulf states. However, the police and courts are given a lot of latitude in dealing with what are considered to be offences against traditional morality. Muharraq, where the party was held, is also regarded as a conservative and highly religious city.

The 49 men convicted last week faced charges of debauchery and prostitution, plus a few additional charges relating to alcohol and cannabis. The Gay Middle East (GME) website says almost all of them were Saudis (from the same clan), along with two from Qatar, two from Lebanon and one from Kuwait.

GME points out that the court dealt with them fairly leniently – they could have been jailed for five years – though that still leaves the question of whether they should have been prosecuted at all.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 8 March 2011.