Life

In many countries, hook-up apps expose gay men to blackmail, arrest, violence

Grindr posted a warning to its users in Egypt that police — as part of an ongoing crackdown on gays — “may be posing as LGBT to entrap you.” The warning urged users to be careful when arranging meetings with strangers.
Grindr posted a warning to its users in Egypt that police — as part of an ongoing crackdown on gays — “may be posing as LGBT to entrap you.” The warning urged users to be careful when arranging meetings with strangers.

Another Saudi entrapment case was recounted recently on the blog of Scott Long, founder of the LGBT-rights program at Human Rights Watch who is now based in Cairo as a consultant.

Long posted the account of an Egyptian man in his 30s, working as a pharmacist in Saudi Arabia, who said he was entrapped by Saudi police through use of a gay online chatroom and spent two years in a Jeddah prison cell along with dozens of other men convicted of homosexual acts.

“A lot of them had been arrested on the Internet,” the Egyptian man wrote. “The religious police know all the apps and chatrooms. Some of them had got a phone call asking to meet, from someone they’d talked to before on WhatsApp, and that guy turned out to be police.”

A guide offering advice on strategies in the event of arrest has been developed by Alizadeh’s organization for gays in Iran.

“Even if you are on Grindr or Manjam, in most countries that’s not a crime — but sodomy is,” Alizadeh said. “There’s always an element of deniability. If you have a good lawyer, you can argue, ‘How do you prove I’m gay?’ But finding a good lawyer is not always possible.”

Sharif Mowlabocus, a senior lecturer at the University of Sussex in Britain, is an expert on digital media and LGBT culture who’s been closely following the debate over social-networking security. His verdict: Many gay consumers have been naive.

“The service is free or cheap, it is fast, and — for gay men — it allows us to connect with like-minded folk in a way that we’ve never been able to before,” Mowlabocus wrote in an email. “We simply aren’t that interested in asking questions of these applications.”

Simkhai, the Grindr CEO, called the apps “a lifeline to the gay world” for gays in hostile cultures.

Given such attitudes, Mowlabocus said companies that operate gay dating apps have a duty to protect their users and to be transparent about their security measures.

Should men in countries with anti-gay laws stop using such apps altogether?

Mowlabocus considers that unrealistic. “Add loneliness, isolation, or even desire into the mix and we very quickly begin to see the real benefits outweighing the potential risks.”

According to human rights groups, there are more than 70 countries which criminalize gay sex. Gay bars and social clubs either don’t exist or operate covertly in such places, which makes dating apps a tempting method for making contacts.

“The lure of being with other people like yourself…

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