Amazon AMZN has acquiesced to pressure from the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to restrict its citizens from accessing the platform’s LGBTQ-related merchandise.
What Happened: The New York Times reported that the UAE government pressured the e-commerce giant with the threat of penalties if it did not comply with its demand. Amazon’s Restricted Products team worked to hide the results for more than 150 keywords that could have any possible connection with LGBTQ issues, individuals or products.
Amazon also blocked several specific book titles that referenced the LGBTQ experience, such as Nagata Kabi’s “My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness” and Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir.”
Homosexuality is considered a criminal offense in the UAE, with offenders facing financial penalties and imprisonment if they are convicted. Amazon entered the UAE through its $580-million acquisition of the Dubai-based e-commerce site Souq.com in 2017, which was rebranded as Amazon.ae.
In a statement to the Times, Amazon defended its actions while insisting it is supportive of the LGBTQ community.
“As a company, we remain committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, and we believe that the rights of LGBTQ+ people must be protected,” said Nicole Pampe, an Amazon spokeswoman.
“With Amazon stores around the world, we must also comply with the local laws and regulations of the countries in which we operate.”
Why It Happened: The UAE is not alone among the world’s Muslim-majority nations in taking a harsh view of homosexuality, and the targeting of anything related to the LGBTQ community intensified during the Pride observances that occurred this month.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that Saudi Arabia’s government confiscated toys, clothing and other items with rainbow colors, claiming they mirrored the Rainbow Flag identified with the LGBTQ community and, thus, could be used to promote homosexuality in children.
“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 the Saudi Commerce Ministry on social media.
CBS News reported that Lebanon’s Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi called on his nation’s security forces to break up events that "promote" homosexuality while Kuwait's Ministry of Commerce and Industry called on the nation’s citizens to report products featuring an approximation of the Rainbow Flag.
The ministry sought to help in the reporting by sharing images that displayed the difference between a "normal" rainbow with seven colors and a six-hued rainbow that "violates public morals." The Kuwaiti government also filed a protest with the U.S. Embassy for tweets from earlier this month that showed the Rainbow Flag and affirmed the rights of LGTBQ individuals.
In Turkey, the Washington Blade reported on clashes between Istanbul police and hundreds of LGBTQ people and their allies who violated the 2014 ban on public observances of Pride Month. Government security forces arrested more than 373 people including Agence France-Presse journalist/photographer Bülent Kılıç, who was covering the event.
And NBC News reported that Indonesia’s government lodged a protest with the U.K. embassy when it flew the Rainbow Flag over its diplomatic compound in May. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. While it does not criminalize homosexuality, the country nonetheless views it as a taboo subject.
Photo: Benson Kua / Wikimedia Commons
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