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Amazon blocks LGBTQ searches in UAE after political pressure

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Dubai UAE
Dubai UAE

Amazon has bowed to pressure from the United Arab Emirates and restricted searches related to LGBTQ products in the country.

The online retailer has blocked searches for more than 150 keywords such as “lgbtq” and “pride”, while searches for specific books about gay and transgender issues have also been restricted.

Documents leaked to the New York Times showed that the Emirati government had given Amazon until Friday to comply with its order or face repercussions.

The company said that while it supported gay and transgender rights, it always complied with local laws in the countries where it operates.

Amazon has spent heavily to build a business in the UAE, acquiring the country’s biggest online retailer Souq.com in 2017 for $580m (£478m).

Many other multinational tech giants have been forced to compromise on the values they claim to support to operate internationally. In 2016, Apple removed a lesbian couple from a Mother’s Day advert in some markets, and in 2019 Netflix pulled an episode of the comedy show Patriot Act in Saudi Arabia after it was critical of the kingdom.

Same sex relations are illegal in the UAE and expressing support for LGBTQ rights can also be an offence.

"As a company, we remain committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, and we believe that the rights of LGBTQ+ people must be protected," Amazon said.

"With Amazon stores around the world, we must also comply with the local laws and regulations of the countries in which we operate."

Amazon was blocked from participating in last weekend’s Pride parade in Seattle, where the company is headquartered. Seattle Pride said it had decided not to work with the company because of donations it had made to US politicians who support anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Amazon has said it will continue to make political donations even when it disagrees with positions taken by politicians.

Amazon recently closed its Kindle store in China. The company did not give a reason for the closure but it had been under pressure from Beijing to remove negative reviews on books containing President Xi Jinping’s speeches and writings.

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