Suhail al-Jameel, a gay social media star with over 170,000 followers, was arrested in Saudi Arabia for posting a shirtless photo online in which he’s wearing leopard-print shorts.
The 23-year-old posted a statement to his Snapchat on Sunday, explaining that he was first detained and has now been charged with sharing nudity online. With media reports scant, it’s unclear what the actual charge is.
“In 2019, [LGBTQ+ people] are not welcome in Saudi Arabia,” al-Jameel wrote. “You must live in secret and can’t live in peace. You want tourism but you won’t give us freedoms.”
“I take a photo of myself wearing shorts at the beach and I go to jail for wearing shorts,” he continued. “Then the police change my charges to electronic crimes for sharing photos of nudity. How am I nude if I am wearing shorts on a hot beach?”
There’s no word on how long al-Jameel might be held, but he retweeted a comment by a follower who said that he faces three years in jail. His fans have been using the #FreeSuhail hashtag to bring awareness to the incident.
Saudi Arabia has recently begun cracking down on what it views as expressions of Western values, with new regulations that authorities have termed public decency laws. Implemented last month, the new policies are wide-ranging and are targeted at tourists who might run afoul of local customs. They include a ban on public displays of affection, getting drunk on flights into the country, and — yes — wearing shorts.
Public morality laws have also been used to target LGBTQ+ people in countries like Egypt and Palestine. In 2017, Egyptian authorities waged a months-long campaign to crackdown on LGBTQ+ expression after a rainbow Pride flag was waved at a Mash'rou Leila concert, and 57 people were jailed as a result.
Observers held out hope that enforcement of the morality laws was relaxing in Saudi Arabia after a video that went viral earlier this month showed two women swimming in the Red Sea in modern swimsuits and the pair do not seem to have faced arrest as a result. However, al-Jameel’s detention suggests those who run afoul of the new codes will continue to used to face prosecution.
This isn’t al-Jameel's first run-in with the Saudi Arabian authorities — the Middle Eastern news outlet Erem News reported that he’s been targeted by authorities in the past with detentions for unspecified reasons.
Meanwhile, homosexuality is a death penalty offense in Saudi Arabia, which recently executed five men who were “linked to homosexual acts.”