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Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, has taken steps to restrict the sales of LGBTQ-related products and limit search results following pressure from the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to documents seen by the New York Times, which first reported the story, the company has until tomorrow (1 July) to comply with the Emirati government’s demands or face “penalties”, the nature of which are unclear.

Homosexuality is illegal in the UAE and throughout the Middle-East, expect in Israel. In the UAE, all non-heterosexual relations are criminalised and, under Sharia Law, the legal system based on the Qur’an, are punishable by death, although there are no records of the death penalty being enforced for several years. More common punishments include public floggings, chemical castration, life imprisonment, hormone treatment, torture and electric-shock therapy, while people suspected of being gay often face “honour” killings, forced anal examinations and brutal treatment at the hands of vigilantes.

No results

It appears that some restrictions have already been applied. Search terms including “pride”. “LGBTQ” and “transgender flag” yielded no results, and books such as Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir appear to no longer be available. Both titles remain available on the company’s UK and US sites.

In the US, where Amazon has frequently come under pressure to remove titles which some people claimed were “anti-trans”, the company has cited freedom of speech as its reason for keeping certain books available. Its policy states: “As a bookseller, we believe that providing access to the written word is important, including content that may be considered objectionable.” 

Committed to diversity

Nicole Pampe, a spokesperson for Amazon said in a statement: “As a company, we remain committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, and we believe that the rights of LGBTQ+ people must be protected. With Amazon stores around the world, we must also comply with the local laws and regulations of the countries in which we operate.”

Seattle Pride

Seattle Pride, which took place last weekend, dropped Amazon as a sponsor. A statement on the Seattle Pride website read: “Seattle Pride has decided to not partner with Amazon for the 2022 Seattle Pride Parade because of their financial donations to politicians who actively propose and support anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, oppose pro-LGBTQIA+ and other human rights legislation, and for allowing anti-LGBTQIA+ organizations to raise funds from their AmazonSmile program.”

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