Earlier this week, authorities in Saudi Arabia seized rainbow-coloured toys, pencils, and clothes, among other items, from shops in the capital city of Riyadh. The crackdown on homosexuality was reported on Tuesday evening by the country’s state-run Al-Ekhbariya news channel, which claimed that rainbow-coloured items send a “poisoned message” to children.
“We are giving a tour of the items that contradict the Islamic faith and public morals and promote homosexual colours targeting the younger generation,” said an official from Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Commerce, in the report. The ministry also took to Twitter, showing officials going through stores to inspect toys and backpacks among other items for the presence of rainbow colours. The report indicated that shops selling these products may also face legal penalties.
“Our supervisory teams make the rounds of sales outlet and seize and confiscate products that contain symbols and signs that call for aberration and contradict correct nature, and impose penalties on facilities in violation,” said a post by the ministry. Reportedly, it also used a derogatory term to refer to homosexuality.
A ministry employee said that one of the items “indirectly promotes homosexuality”, while another voice-over in the report said that the toys “are nothing but poisoned messages that target the innocence of children”. Furthermore, the report also shows a journalist gesturing toward a rainbow flag present in one of the markets in Riyadh, calling it the “homosexuality flag”.
Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of the Sharia law, which is the foundation for the entire judicial system in the country. According to the Sharia, homosexuality is a potential capital offence, and is criminalised with punishments given on the basis of their interpretation of the law. I can be punishable by death or flogging, depending on the perceived seriousness of the case. Additionally, it is also illegal for men to “behave like women”, or for them to wear women’s clothes, and vice-versa.
This is following the kingdom’s crackdown on films featuring LGBTQ+ characters. In April, the country reportedly asked Disney to remove “LGBTQ references” from Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’, which the company refused to do. According to sources, Saudi regulators had objected to a 12-second scene where a character refers to her “two mums”. Ultimately the film did not screen in Saudi cinemas. Furthermore, earlier this week, Saudi Arabia was among at least a dozen more countries that banned Disney and Pixar’s latest animation, ‘Lightyear’, which features a kiss between same-sex characters.
This move is also similar to the one taken by Saudi Arabia’s neighbouring country, Qatar, where the authorities reportedly announced seizing rainbow-coloured pop-its and other items from stores for “bearing slogans that go against Islamic values”. According to sources, officials in Saudi Arabia have not responded to multiple requests for a comment on this action. It also remains unclear how many shops were targeted or the number of items seized.
The crackdown also comes during pride month, which is celebrated across the world in the month of June, to mark the 1969 Stonewall riots in the US. These protests are seen as pivotal for gay rights in the US and around the world. The rainbow colours and the LGBTQ pride flag are a symbol of the queer social movement with the colours that reflect the diversity of the community, as well as the spectrum of human sexuality.