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Where is it illegal to be gay? A look at all the countries where homosexuality is against the law

Elena Cherubini and Mayer Nissim July 26, 2017
The Miller Projection of the World (Wikimedia Commons)

The Miller Projection of the World (Wikimedia Commons)

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality between men in England and Wales.

But in many countries around the world, being gay is still against the law, and “criminals” face a range of punishments.

Some do not explicitly outlaw being gay, but gay people still face potential prosecution under vaguely-worded laws regarding “morality” or “decency”.

The Miller Projection of the World (Wikimedia Commons)

In some countries, being gay is illegal but the law or its punishments are not enforced. Gay people in these countries could still fall victim to these laws, should a change in government or policing occur.

Sentences range from fines to whipping to imprisonment, and in several cases, even the death penalty. These are the countries where – explicitly or otherwise  – being gay is still a crime.

AfricaAsiaAmericasEuropeOceania

Africa

Algeria

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since the implementation of Sharia Law in 1966. “Homosexual acts” are explicitly illegal under Articles 338 and 333 of Algerian law.
Punishment: Fines of up to 10,000 dinars, up to three years in prison
Extrajudicial killings of LGBT people by vigilante groups are tolerated by the authorities

Angola

Not explicitly illegal for Men or Women
Since the Province of Angola days, the law has banned “acts against nature” since 1886, but the penal code formally approved in 2017 does not outlaw consenting same-sex activity
Punishment: Imprisonment (rarely enforced)

Botswana

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since 1885, in the days of the Bechuanaland Protectorate. Sections 164, 165 and 167 of the Botswana penal code explicitly ban so-called “unnatural offences”
Punishment: Up to 7 years in prison (not widely enforced)

Burundi

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since 2009, under Article 567 of the Burundi Penal Code.
Punishment: Up to two years imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 francs

Cameroon

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since 1972, under section 347-1 of the legal code
Punishment: Up to 5 years’ imprisonment and fine of up to 200,000 francs
Extrajudicial killings of LGBT people by vigilante groups are tolerated by the authorities

Chad

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since 2016 after a 111-1 vote
Punishment:: A fine as it is deemed a misdemeanour

Comoros

Illegal for Men and Women
Homosexual acts are considered to be “against nature”
Punishment: Up to five years’ imprisonment and 1,000,000 franc fine

Egypt

Not explicitly illegal, but de facto illegal for Men and Women
De facto illegality under public morality and order laws since 2000 under Hosni Mubarak. After the 2011 revolution, little has changed
Punishment: Up to 17 years imprisonment with hard labour and fines (not well-enforced)

Eritrea

Illegal for Men and Women
Prohibited in Section II (Sexual Deviations) of the penal code of 1957, inherited from its colonial past
Punishment: Up to 3 years imprisonment

Ethiopia

Illegal for Men and Women
Same-sex sexual activity is illegal under Article 629 of the Criminal Code, with a range of punishments depending on circumstances
Punishment: Up to 15 years imprisonment

Gambia

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal under laws inherited from Gambia Colony and Protectorate since 1888, and retained by Section 144 of the Gambia Criminal Code
Punishment: Up to life imprisonment

Ghana

Illegal for Men, but legal for Women
Illegal since the 1860s since the Gold Coast days, retained in 1960 and 2003 under Chapter 6 of the country’s criminal code concerning “unnatural carnal knowledge”.
Punishment: Up to 3 years imprisonment

Guinea

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal under Articles 325, 326 and 326 of the country’s penal code.
Punishment: Up to 3 years imprisonment and fines of up to 1,000,000 francs

Kenya gay list newspaper

Kenya

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since 1897 under the East Africa Protectorate, and retained by several laws since, including Section 262 of the Penal Code that bans sodomy and Section 165 that bans “gross indecency”
Punishment: Up to 14 years imprisonment

Liberia

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal under Chapters 14 and 50 of the country’s penal code
Punishment: Up to 1 year imprisonment

Malawi

Illegal for Men and Women (suspended)
Laws banning homosexuality were were suspended by President Joyce Banda in 2012
Punishment: Up to 14 years imprisonment, with or without corporal punishment (suspended)

Mauritania

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal under the implementation of Sharia law and Article 308 of the 1983 Criminal Code
Punishment: Execution by stoning for men, imprisonment for women

Mauritius

“Gay sex” is not explicitly illegal, but sodomy is illegal
Sodomy is banned for men and women under Section 250 of the Mauritius Criminal Code
Punishment: Up to 5 years imprisonment

Morocco

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal under Article 489 of the country’s penal code
Punishment: Up to 3 years imprisonment and a fine

Namibia

Illegal for Men (but not enforced) but not for Women
Illegal under Roman-Dutch common-law imposed by South Africans. While it was kept on the books since independence in 1990, there have been no convictions
Punishment: None enforced

Gay in nigeria

Nigeria

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since the Northern Nigeria Protectorate and Southern Nigeria Protectorate days, homosexuality is still illegal across the whole country under several laws, with varying punishments depending on the region of the divided nation.
Punishment: Execution by stoning (in the Muslim North) and up to 14 years imprisonment (in the Christian South)

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal for decades under Spanish law, the partially-recognised state is now a member of the African Union. While Spain has decriminalised homosexuality, some of these laws seemingly persist
Punishment: Up to 3 years imprisonment

Senegal

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal under Article 319 of the country’s penal code
Punishment: Up to 5 years imprisonment

Sierra Leone

Illegal for Men (but rarely enforced), legal for Women
Illegal since colonial laws in 1861, with sodomy banned under Section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act.
Punishment: Penal servitude for life (unenforced)

Somalia

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since 1964 with the implementation of strict Sharia Law
Punishment: Up to execution

South Sudan

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since 1899 as Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, the country’s implementation of Sharia law prior to its split saw homosexual activity was punishable by lashes and execution. Southern Sudan’s new legal code bans “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”.
Punishment: Up to 10 years imprisonment

Sudan

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since 1899 as Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, the country is now governed by strict Sharia Law, with the death penalty used as part of a complex and graded sequence of punishments
Punishment: Up to execution

Swaziland

Illegal for Men, legal for Women
Illegal under colonial laws, the current state of affairs is now uncertain, though it is thought that sodomy as defined as anal sex between men is still illegal
Punishment: Unknown

Tanzania

Illegal for Men and Women
Differing laws apply to the mainland and to the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar. Illegal under colonial laws since 1864 and now illegal under the Tanzania Penal Code and Zanzibar Penal Codes.
Punishment: Up to life imprisonment for men, up to 5 years for women

Togo

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since the days of Togoland in 1884.
Punishment: Up to 3 years imprisonment and a fine of up to 500,000 francs

Orlando vigil in Tunisia

Tunisia

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since 1913 under Article 230 of the Penal Code and updated in 1964
Punishment: Up to 3 years imprisonment

Uganda

Illegal for Men and Women
Homosexuality has been illegal for men in Uganda since 1894, and for women since 2000 when the law was updated. The homophobic laws from British colonial rule were enshrined in the country’s Penal Code in 1950, under Sections 145 and 146.
An explicit Anti-Homosexuality Act including the death penalty was passed in 2012, but annulled on a technicality in 2014
Punishment: Up to life imprisonment

Zambia

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since 1911 when the country was Rhodesia, anti-gay laws have been enshrined in Sections 155, 156 and 157 in the country’s penal code after independence which bans acts “against the order of nature”
Punishment: Up to 14 years imprisonment

Zimbabwe

Illegal for Men, legal for Women
Illegal since the colony days in 1891 and same-sex acts are further criminalised under laws passed in 2006.
Punishment: Up to 3 years imprisonment

Asia:

Afghanistan

Illegal for Men and Women
Despite widespread problems of same-sex abuse and prostitution, homosexuality is illegal under the country’s implementation of strict Sharia law.
Punishment: Execution by stoning

Bangladesh

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal dating back to colonial days, homosexual acts are forbidden under the “Unnatural Offences” clause in the constitution.
Punishment: Up to life imprisonment (unenforced)

Bhutan

Illegal for Men and Women (unenforced)
While explicitly illegal under Articles 213 and 214 of the country’s legal code, no-one has ever been charged in what is seen as a widely bisexual society
Punishment: Up to 1 year imprisonment(unenforced)

Brunei

Illegal for Men and Women
In 2014, Brunei expressed a new penal code that called for death by stoning for individuals convited of same-sex acts
Punishment: Execution by stoning

India

Illegal for Men and Women
Despite widespread acceptance of “third gender” Hijras in some regions, homosexual acts are banned under section 377 of the country’s legal code, dating back to 1860 – and though this has been challenged by several high court decisions since, a 2013 court ruling upheld the ban
Punishment: Up to life imprisonment

Flogging in Indonesia

Indonesia

Illegal for Men in some territories
While gay sex is legal nationwide, Muslims are subject to anti-gay laws in the provinces of Aceh and the city of Palembang in South Sumatra
Punishment: Up to caning

Iran

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since the 1930s, the more recent implementation of strict Sharia law has seen a further deterioration of LGBT rights.
Punishment: Execution

Kuwait

Illegal for Men and Women
While not explicitly illegal, Articles 193 bans “debauchery” and is interpreted to refer to male homosexuality.
Punishment: Up to 6 years imprisonment

Malaysia

Illegal for Men and Women
Malaysia’s mix of old colonial laws banning sodomy and its Islam-shaped legal system mean that various same-sex acts are illegal.
Punishment: Up to 20 years imprisonment

Maldives

Illegal for Men and Women
While not banned by national law, same-sex relationships are banned under Sharia law
Punishment: Up to execution, while whippings, deportation, house arrest and penalty’s of up to 6 years imprisonment also occur
Vigilante attacks and executions are also tolerated by the authorities

Myanmar

Illegal for Men and Women
Section 377 of the penal code prohibits same sex sexual activity and sodomy, and several other parts of the law are also used which indirectly criminalise gay people
Punishment: Up to 10 years imprisonment (unenforced in recent years)

Oman

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal under sections 33 and 223 of the legal code, though cases only tend to go to court if a “public scandal” is raised.
Punishment: Up to 3 years imprisonment

Pakistan

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal since colonial days, acts are rarely convicted today, though there is still much social stigma to being openly gay
Punishment: Up to life imprisonment (unenforced)

Qatar

Illegal for Men and Women
Sodomy between men is explicitly illegal under Article 296 of the penal code, which indirectly criminalises women for violating public morality laws
Punishment: Up to 7 years imprisonment

Saudi Arabia

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal under the implementation of strict Sharia law, with a range of harsh punishments
Punishment: Up to execution, with “criminals” also imprisoned, fined, and whipped

Pink Dot rally

Singapore

Illegal for Men (unenforced), legal for Women
Section 377Aof the country’s legal code makes it illegal for two men to have sex with each other, but it is vaguely-worded
Punishment: Up to 2 years imprisonment (unenforced)

Sri Lanka

Illegal for Men and Women
Despite laws against discrimination, homosexuality is still illegal under Article 365A of the legal code which bans “gross indecency”
Punishment: Up to two years imprisonment

Syria

Illegal for Men and Women
Homosexuality is illegal across Syria due to the implementation of strict Sharia law, but the punishment varies depending on who controls the region in which one lives.
Punishment: Up to 3 years imprisonment in the Syrian Arab Republic, and Up to execution in ISIS-held territories

Turkmenistan

Illegal for Men, legal for Women
“Homosexual acts” are illegal under Section 135 of the criminal code, and is considered a crime against morality
Punishment: Up to 2 years imprisonment

United Arab Emirates

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal under 354 of the federation’s legal code, and under the implementation of strict Sharia law that coveres each of the emirates.
Punishment: Deportation, chemical castrations, fines, prison time and up to execution (though execution is not reported to be enforced as a penalty)

Uzbekistan

Illegal for Men, legal for women
Illegal under section 120 of the country’s penal code
Punishment: Up to 3 years imprisonment.

Yemen

Illegal for Men and Women
Illegal under Articles 264 and 268 of the country’s national law, with lashes given to married men and the death penalty for men
Punishment: Up to execution

Americas

Antigua and Barbuda

Illegal for Men and Women
Buggery – defined as male-on-male anal sex is illegal under Section 12 of the legal code. Section 15 covers “serious indecency”
Punishment: Up to 15 years’ imprisonment

Barbados

Illegal for Men and Women (not enforced)
Sodomy is still illegal on the statute books.
Punishment: Up to life imprisonment (unenforced)

Dominica

Illegal for Men and Women
“Gross indecency” and “buggery” are banned under the country’s Sexual Offences Act. While not enforced, “criminals” can in theory be forced to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital
Punishment: Up to 10 years imprisonment

Grenada

Illegal for Men, legal for Women
The “unnatural act” of anal penetration is banned.
Punishment: Up to 10 years imprisonment

Guyana

Illegal for Men and Women
Sections 352-355 of the law ban “buggery” “gross indecency” and “indecent” acts – though these are not defined
Punishment: Up to 10 years imprisonment

Gay rights in Jamaica

Jamaica

Illegal for Men, legal for women
The “unnatural offence” of buggery and “outrages on decency” are banned under laws dating back to the 1860s
Punishment: Up to 10 years imprisonment and/or hard labour

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Illegal for Men, legal for Women
Male on male same-sex activity and “the abominable crime of buggery” are banned under the Offences Against the Person Act
Punishment: Up to 10 years imprisonment with or without hard labour

Saint Lucia

Illegal for Men, legal for Women
Gross indecency and buggery are banned under the country’s criminal code updated in 2004.
Punishment: Up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Illegal for Men and Women
Buggery and gross indecency are banned under sections 146 and 148 of the criminal code
Punishment: Up to 10 years imprisonment

Trinidad and Tobago:

Illegal for Men and Women
Anal sex is banned for both sexes and “serious indecency” – defined as using the genitals for arousal or gratification without sexual intercourse is also banned
Punishment: Up to 25 years imprisonment (not enforced)

Europe:

An activist stands naked, wrapped in a rainbow flag, in a mock cage

Chechnya

Technically legal, but gay men are persecuted by the authorities
Chechnya is part of the Russian Federation, where gay sex was technically decriminalised in 1993. An implementation of strict Sharia law in the semi-autonomous region means that LGBT people face significant prosecution and violence.There are widespread and credible reports of official authorities rounding up, torturing and executing gay men.

Oceania:

Cook Islands

Illegal for Men, legal for Women
The Crimes Act 1969 covers a range of male-on-male sexual activity
Punishment: Up to 7 years imprisonment

Kiribati

Illegal for Men, legal for Women
Sections 153, 154, and 155 of the legal code outlaw anal sex for men and women, and “gross indecency” between men is also baned
Punishment: Up to 14 years imprisonment (not enforced)

Papua New Guinea

Illegal for Men, legal for Women
Illegal under Section 210 of the legal code, though there no recent reports of prosecutions
Punishment: Up to 14 years imprisonment (not enforced)

Samoa

Illegal for Men, legal for Women
Sections 67, 68, and 71 of the Crimes Act 2013 criminalize same-sex sexual acts, and though the law is not enforced, attempts to strike them have failed
Punishment: Up to 7 years imprisonment (not enforced)

Solomon Islands

Illegal for Men and Women
Anal sex and “gross indecency” are against Section 160 of the legal code, though there have not been reports of recent arrests
Punishment: Up to 14 years imprisonment (not enforced)

Tonga

Illegal for Men, legal for Women
Sodomy is illegal under inherited English common law, though there have been no reports of prosecution
Punishment: Up to 10 years imprisonment (not enforced)

Tuvalu

Illegal for Men, legal for Women
Sections 153, 154 and 155 outlaw homosexual intercourse and “unnatural offences”
Punishment: Up to 14 years imprisonment (not enforced)

More: Gay, gay sex, illegalg, sexual offences act

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