Gay Middle East Web Site: http://www.gaymiddleeast.com/
More information about Islam & Homosexuality can be found at: www.al-fatiha.org
Other articles of interest can be found at: groups.yahoo.com/group/al-fatiha-news
Queer Muslim magazine: Huriyah
Gay Islam discussion groups:
January 12, 2006
Kidnapped: Another Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks
As the Islamic Republic of Iran’s lethal anti-gay pogrom—the government’s intense persecution of its own citizens for homosexuality, including the execution of at least a dozen young gay men—proceeds at a terrifying pace, the victims of this oppression, despite great obstacles, continue to try to flee from the largest religious prison in the world to tell the story of the inhuman treatment they have suffered. You may have read my previous interviews with two gay refugees from Iran’s sadistic repression of same-sexers: Amir and Mojtaba. The latest escapee to testify to this anti-gay reign of terror is a 28-year-old man caught up in the government‘s extensive Internet entrapment campaign targeting gay men. We’ll call him Sam, and we cannot identify his hometown to protect his real identity.
Sam is the son of a very religious family, most of whom do not know he’s gay. He lived in a smaller town in which—like so many in Iran—most of the people are also intensely religious, consider homosexuality the ultimate sin, and agree with the Islamic Republic’s law mandating the death penalty for any person caught in a homosexual act. Isolated and unable to frequent his few gay friends, constantly living in fear of being arrested and tortured, perhaps executed, Sam became increasingly depressed, and even attempted suicide.
Because there is nowhere in Iran where gay people may legally assemble—private gay parties are frequently raided by the police, and the government has an extensive network of gay informers whose cooperation has been obtained by torture, blackmail, and intimidation with threats of prison or death—like many gay Iranians, particularly those outside the largest cities, Sam’s only way of meeting other gay people was through the Internet. Here, translated from Persian, is his story:
Last Spring, Sam related, “I was in a gay Internet chat room for Iranians. A boy in the chat room was sending repeated messages saying that he was looking for a sex partner and was up for anything. He said he was 23 and very handsome. I finally got up the courage to arrange a rendezvous with him somewhere in tow—he said that after meeting we could then go to his house, as there was no question of his coming to mine.
“ We met at 3:00 in the afternoon, and, as the young man was very good-looking, I agreed to go with him by taxi to his home. A taxi rapidly arrived—there was a person sitting in the front next to the driver, and another in back. We got into the taxi, and my new friend suggested that I should be the one to sit in the middle in the rear, with him sitting next to me. “ As we drove away, it didn’t take long for them to shove my head down between the rear and front seats and begin beating me. They put a blindfold around my eyes, calling me all sorts of names and threatening me with the worst as the blows continued to rain on me.”
It turned out that both the young man Sam had met in the chat-room, and the others in the taxi, were basiji. The basiji are an unofficial religious parapolice composed of thugs under the control of the Intelligence Ministry and operating with the authorization of the religious authorities. They are recruited from the criminal and under-classes, and are employed by the Islamic government to do its strong-arm dirty work. For example, when the government repressed student demonstrations in universities last year, it was the basiji who were assigned to beat the student demonstrators and throw them out of the windows, so that the government could deny responsibility for these violent repressions, in which a number of students were killed. The basiji are a potent weapon frequently used in the government’s anti-gay crackdown, and it is from their ranks that the human bait used in its Internet entrapment campaign is recruited. Many of the basiji are young.
“ After about 15 minutes,” Sam continued, “we arrived at a location—as I was blindfolded, I had no idea where I was. I was in a state of shock—I could not believe this was happening to me. The eventually took off my blindfold, and then began the worst event in my life. I was surrounded by men in civilian clothes, all of them wearing pagers, and some of them were armed. They all had beards, and some of them were quite young, in their late teens. Their boss was almost bald, and had a big stomach—if he’d had a turban around his head he would have looked like a mullah, perhaps he was a mullah in civilian clothes, I don’t know. I quickly concluded I was in some sort of basiji headquarters. It was an old building; part of it was a school.
“ After several hours of torture, they asked me to write a statement in which I would promise not to ever use a gay chat room again—if I did, they told me, even heavier punishment would be waiting for me. They told me that if they had caught me having sex they would have hanged me. I refused to sign their statement, so they began beating me with a heavy metal cable. God knows how barbarous it was—they beat me at least 30 times, while kicking me with their shoes. I couldn’t bear the pain any more, and I begged them to stop. I knew they would not stop until they had the signed statement in their hands, and that is why I agreed to sign it. But even when I got up from the floor to sign their statement, I asked why—this made their boss very mad, and he ordered his men to resume beating me with the heavy cable, which they did while yelling more threats and insults. The screaming intimidation felt like a hammer on my brain, it was worse than the cable and the beatings. One of them hollered, ‘We’ll round up all you fags until there aren’t any left to make a chat room and play your fag games.’
“ The beatings, verbal abuse, and intimidation continued until 8:00 p.m. the next day. I was finally thrown into a storage room—the room was filthy and full of rubbish and had a very bad smell. They kept me locked up in that stinking little room for seven or eight days. One day they finally let me out, once again blindfolded me, and shoved me into a car. We drove around for about 30 minutes—but it seemed like 100 years because they were beating me all the time. They dropped me off somewhere and told me not to take off my blindfold until they’d left. When I could no longer hear the sound of their car, I took off the blindfold and saw I was on a deserted dirt road somewhere outside town. I finally flagged down a truck and persuaded the driver to drop me off in town.”
When he got home, Sam said, he faced intensive questioning from his family, who wanted to know where he’d been. But they do not know I’m gay, so I had to lie to them. But I could not give them a plausible answer. I finally called a friend and asked him to take pictures of my wounds and bruises from the beatings so I’d have some evidence—but my friend doesn’t know I’m gay either, so I had to lie to him too. I was afraid if I old him the truth the situation would go from bad to worse, so I said the basiji had caught me when I was drunk and beat me. When I got back home, the only member of my family to whom I could tell the truth of what had happed was my brother, who left Iran four years ago, and who is also gay—so I sent him an e-mail. I had never considered leaving my country before this horrible episode,” Sam said, “but after it I could sense the shadow of death and torture on my back, so I decided to escape to save my life.”
It took Sam six months after his kidnapping by the basiji before he could arrange to escape from Iran. Four months ago, Sam made his way to Pakistan. There, he filed a request for asylum with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and eventually got in touch with the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization, the largest Iranian gay organization, which has secretariats in several countries. The PGLO, which has helped me in my previous reportages on the gay tragedy in Iran, asked me to help Sam tell his story to the world. For as Sam said, “Iranian homosexuals have had all their rights taken away from them, and face a bitter destiny.”
Sam today is in Pakistan, still waiting for the UNHCR to recognize as legitimate his demand for asylum in a gay-friendly country.
There are many other gay refugees from Iranian terror like Sam, almost all of them in dire financial straights and living a precarious existence, constantly fearful that the countries they’ve managed to flee to will deport them back to Iran, where a dire fate awaits them. The PGLO desperately needs our financial and moral support, and help in obtaining asylum for these gay refugees. To find out how to help, please contact the PGLO through the English-language page of its website
January 18, 2006
Sex, drugs and HIV in Iran
by Kevin Sites
Tehran – On the outside, things look pretty good for Abdullah and his wife, Zoreh. They’ve been happily married for five years and just had their first child, Ali Reza, now 6 months old. "Everyone thinks we’re so lucky," says the 34-year-old Abdullah. "Our faces are red from all the congratulatory patting." But the facade, they both know, is as fragile as their health – which could crumble at any moment. Four years ago, Abdullah and Zoreh found out they were HIV-positive. They are reluctant to discuss how they may have gotten infected, saying only: "It’s not clear."
While they maintain appearances, life becomes increasingly difficult with mounting medical and financial challenges. Both suffer from opportunistic infections (OIs) associated with HIV, which causes AIDS, and Abdullah has contracted hepatitis C. "I use the motorbike as a taxi sometimes," says Abdullah, "but I don’t make much money from it." It’s not enough to pay the rent on their apartment, which is being raised to $160 a month. And since 23-year-old Zoreh can’t breast-feed Ali Reza, there is also the cost of baby formula, which is very expensive in Iran.
They would ask for support from their families, but there’s a problem: They haven’t told them about their condition. "They’re laborers, they wouldn’t understand yet," says Abdullah. "There needs to be a greater understanding of HIV first." The HIV status of Ali Reza is another concern. Tests are only accurate after the baby is 1 year to 18 months old. Although HIV is still a small problem in Iran compared to the epidemics in Africa, Europe or the United States, it is a growing one. The Iranian Ministry of Health reports that over
12,500 people are infected. The vast majority are men; less than 700 women are infected with the virus. The ministry says at least 1,000 people have died from the virus, which they believe has spread mostly through the sharing of needles by intravenous drug users. And with an estimated 200,000 people shooting drugs in Iran, there’s understandable concern that the number of HIV cases could skyrocket. Dr. Minoo Mohraz, the nation’s top AIDS expert and chairman of the Iranian AIDS Research Center at the University of Tehran, has been warning the government and the public about the disease for 20 years. In the early days, she says, no one would listen.
"It was very difficult in the beginning because they didn’t understand – not even the government officials believed me," she says." "Initially, I was alone. Now I have a lot of colleagues helping. We had only 300 patients, now we have 12,000." Mohraz says she saw the impact of AIDS in other places like Africa and knew it would be coming to Iran. "The denial state is very high in our country," she says. "They believed it was all about high-risk behavior, promiscuity in Africa, homosexuality in America." Mohraz says overall awareness now is better in Iran. But there are major obstacles such as the difficulty in talking about sex and drug use in a strict Islamic country. "Most of our population are young people. Drug addiction is great and talking about sex is not very well-done," she says. But that hasn’t stopped Mohraz. She raises the issue every chance she gets – in television, radio and newspaper interviews. And while she agrees that intravenous drug use is a huge factor in infections, she believes that currently more people are becoming infected through unsafe sex, specifically through prostitution.
"Prostitution is illegal, so we don’t have much access to commercial sex workers," says Mohraz. "With drug users we can deal with the problem very quickly. They’re often in prison so we can track them more easily." She says economic conditions in Iran have exacerbated the problem. Divorce rates are increasing, and people are getting married later, if at all. This likely increases the number of sexual partners they have, including prostitutes, increasing the risk of infection.
Mohraz says government and religious leaders know that something has to be done, but there’s still a certain squeamishness to the entire issue.
In addition to creating awareness in fighting the spread of HIV, Mohraz also says it’s important to destigmatize the disease.
At the AIDS center, Mohraz examines one of her patients, Mohammed, who is complaining of a rash under his arms. He is 21 years old and a hemophiliac. He became HIV-positive after being given a clotting agent containing the virus. Mohammed says that although his family and friends are supportive, he has experienced discrimination in both obvious and subtle ways. "Even the doctors are a little afraid of the disease," he says. "They tell me they aren’t, but I know – I can tell with the way they deal with me."
He was taking 17 anti-retroviral drugs each day but stopped when he began having stomach problems. He tells Mohraz his stomach is much better after he stopped taking the pills, but now he’s getting rashes and having night sweats, and his hair is falling out.
Mohraz decides to start a new regimen, with fewer pills, for a three-month trial period. After Mohammed leaves, Abdullah and Zoreh enter the examination room with Ali Reza, the baby swaddled in heavy blankets against the cold outside. They talk for a bit, thenMohraz pulls out a checkbook, drafts one for the equivalent of $500, and hands it to Abdullah. "She is the only one that helps us," he tells me. "Our families still don’t know." But both Abdullah and Zoreh hope to tell them soon.
Despite the difficulties they face, they have made some progress. They are speaking to school groups about HIV/AIDS and help administer blood tests for those who are concerned. Though it’s only volunteer work now, there’s a possibility they’ll be hired by a health organization to do the same things. They say they see a future for themselves and their baby. "If he’s positive, we’ll live with the sickness," says Zoreh. "What sets us apart is that we’ve seen the end of it. We know what it’s like to be HIV-positive. Now we’re just trying to train and educate ourselves for our future."
(Find more reporting from "Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone" at http://hotzone.yahoo.com.)
February 8, 2006
An Iranian Trans Torture Victim Speaks from Inside Iran
The following article of mine will be published tomorrow in Gay City News, New York’s largest gay weekly:
The latest testimony from a victim of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s lethal anti-gay pogrom comes from inside Mashad, the ultra-conservative city under strict religious control where two teenage gay boys were hanged for their homosexuality in July of last year. Mekabiz is a 21-year-old, self-described “transsexual man,” from a middle-class family (his father is a retired senior army officer.)
Rejected by his family for his sexuality, arrested, tortured, and thrown into prison — where he was repeatedly gang-raped with the complicity of his jailers — Mekabiz is today homeless and living on the streets of Mashad, but remains in contact with the city’s underground gay community, which helped arrange this interview. In the following interview via Internet (translated from the Persian by Ava of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization) Mekabiz tells his tragic story:
“ I’ve always been attracted to people of my own gender, even as a child,” Mekabiz relates. “I was five years old when I had my first sexual experience, with my neighbor’s son. Even in elementary school I always befriended the good-looking boys among my classmates, although in that period the only person I was intimate with was my older cousin. I‘ve always had a big body build — when I was four I looked like I was eight.
“ My mother discovered I was having relations with my neighbor’s son when I was six years old. She beat me with a garden hose — she hit me so hard I couldn’t get out of bed for a month. She begged my father to change our house and move to another neighborhood, but she didn’t tell him anything about my sexuality, because my father was strict career military man, and if he had known he would probably have killed me.
“ The second time my mother found me having relations with my 18-year-old cousin I was in the fifth grade in elementary school. She had a violent argument with my cousin, threw him out of our house, and never spoke to him again. And she punished me by burning my feet, hands, and behind.
“ After that, I was under strict surveillance by mother, who no longer trusted anyone of my acquaintance, until high school, so I had few opportunities for sex. After enrolling in high school, I started having sex with my classmates, or older boys who were available. Sometimes I would get into a taxi that had a young driver and offer sex, I satisfied myself this way. But my mother‘s and sister‘s constant berating tortured me.”
Mekabiz was first arrested last year. He was on a motorcycle with an acquaintance, a student named Ali, who was taking him home for sex. “On the way, a traffic policeman stopped us to see if Ali had the authorization papers to be in the city and to check his driver’s license,” Mekabiz continues. “I was wearing women’s clothing (manto roosari), which was very tight and hugged my body — and sadly, my manhood was causing a visible lump. That made the traffic officer suspicious that I might be smuggling drugs or something. A woman officer was called from headquarters. She touch my legs, lifted up my clothing, and screamed, ‘He’s a man!’ The male officer hit me in the mouth so hard that two of my teeth broke.”
Both Mekabiz and Ali were taken to police headquarters under arrest. “Ali denied knowing me at all. He lied, telling them, ‘I thought he was a girl and I wanted to take him home with me, but thank god you guys stopped us and now I know that this piece of garbage (he meant me) is a guy. In the end, Ali was punished with only 15 lashes and set free. I was locked up.
“In the three weeks in jail before my trial, police officers would come and beat me up because of the way I was, every single day, as well as making fun of me in a very insulting way and playing very nasty pranks on me. When I finally got to court, I tried to claim that I was wearing women’s clothing to joke around with my friend Ali. But Ali’s confession had ruined everything, he sold me out so he wouldn’t get into trouble.
“ The judge treated me like a dirty animal. Once I asked him, ‘Your honor, why do you treat me as if I’m an animal?’ The judge snarled, ‘You are dirtier and lower than a pig,’ and sentenced me to three months in Vakil Abad prison and sixty lashes.
“ When my lashing came, the officer in charge said, ‘Get yourself ready for a good beating, our masseurs are famous!’ I was taken to a big room, stripped naked, and held in a standing position with my hands tied. The began reading from the Koran, then the beating started. They hit me so hard that after 13 lashes I passed out. They brought me back to consciousness and started to hit me again.”
“ In prison, I had never suffered so much in my life. They put me in section one which was the special place for drug dealers and lifers. Those bastards put me in a place where the youngest inmate was 39 years old. When I asked the guards why they wouldn’t put me in the special section reserved for young people, they simply sneered at me, saying, ‘You’ve been with so many young people, now you can service your fellow inmates — they’re people too, they’ll never have real sex again, and you know that masturbation is no fun!’ Every single prisoner in section one raped me — all of them. They even tattooed graffiti on my backside — on one side they wrote, ‘Souvenir from Vaki Abad prison.’ You can’t imagine what kind of hell I went through. I always prayed for god to kill me.
“ I even attempted suicide. I asked one of the guys who raped me frequently to give me some opium. He gave me some, and I ate it all hoping to die. But instead of dying I became a drug addict. Initially I was unconscious for three days — but after that, the guys would force me to do drugs and rape me, they destroyed me. When I once tried to complain to the prison authorities about my being raped, they laughed and said, ‘We know you’ve already had a lot of sex, you like it, so just take it, enjoy it, and shut up.’ The guards bullied me, saying, ‘Hey, sister, how are your husbands?’ Whenever the boss saw me, he acted as if he had seen the devil, cursing me in Arabic.”
When Mekabiz was finally released from prison, he says, “I rented a car to go home — but when I got home, my father declared I wasn’t his child anymore and kicked me out. My family — who all have university degrees, I’m the only one with just a high school diploma — doesn’t care about me and won’t pay any attention to me. Since I came out of prison I have no one. Right now I sleep in cartons on the streets in Mashad. Sometimes I sleep at some rotten people’s houses who I’ve befriended just so I can have a place to sleep. They demand that I smuggle drugs because I require money for my living expenses. This is not living! Please help me!
“ All I want is to get a job with a steady paycheck so I can have a place to live and get out of the horrible situation I’m in. My only goal is to achieve peace with another man, I mean I want to marry a guy who loves me and have a peaceful life — but unfortunately this is impossible in Iran.
“ My biggest fear is being arrested again, because I had sworn in front of the judge that I wouldn’t be who I am any more and act the way I do. But that, too, is impossible.”
For gay people, today’s Iran has become the world’s largest religious prison. If you would like to help fight the inhuman anti-gay campaign in Iran — which daily threatens gay people and the transgendered with arrest, torture, prison, and execution for how and whom they love — and if you want to help the victims of the regime like Mekabiz, and the Iranian gay refugees like Amir, Mojtaba, and Javad (whose stories we have also told in these pages), contact the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO) through the English-language page on their website at www.pglo.org.
PGLO celebrates March 8th– International Women’s Day
"The fault is not with women nor with homosexuality; only our judgments create adversity".
March 8th concurrent with seventeenth of Isfand, is international women’s day. In this day women in countries all over the world, without regards to differences in nationality, race, religion and tribal background, partake in activities such as, protests and other objecting movements, to voice their objection to the oppression that surpasses nationality and all women in the world have to deal with it; That is: male dominance, and all kinds of discrimination based on gender which take on different forms and shapes and under different excuses are exercised upon women of all nations.
After the transformations that took place in 1979 and the coming to power of the Mullahs in Iran, a lot of efforts were taken to erase March 8th out of memories and with this contaminate the fights and movements of the women of our country. It got to a point where holding celebrations on this day, March 8th (Isfand 17th) was announced illegal. But our women didn’t give in and fought back in different forms, they secretly and openly continued to celebrate March 8th and by doing so they added importance and persisted on unity of fighting with their sisters around the world, till the government, contrary to their likes, had to accept and tolerate the visible celebration of women’s day, March 8th in the country, although they still try and limit these celebrations and make them seem of less importance than they really are.
March 8th is a day in which women protest to the inequality and defect of rights in the gender, social, economic and political arenas, in all to society’s organizations from family to the highest degrees of society. Women’s representations on March 8th, is fighting for women being looked over in society and is a day of manifestation of power and will of women in re-establishing their rights which have been unjustly taken away. Homosexual women (Lesbians), as a woman and as a lesbian are under doubled pressure, homosexuals, be it men or women, under all kind of excuses and in the name of religions, culture, etc… are discriminated against and suffer from not having rights and being oppressed.
Governments and laws with use of all kinds of tricks and false cases of dignity try and invalidate groups and cause drifts between members of the groups (bad women, sinful homosexuals, amoral, etc), so with use of this method they prevent unity and correlation between different classes and deprived social groups.
The support of groups and deprived social classes of each other has an important role in fuelling the fight for equality of rights and weakening the injustices. For this reason we the homosexuals, bisexuals, and transsexuals of Iran whilst holding March 8th dearly and congratulating all the women of our country, especially the lesbian women, ask all homosexual men and women and transsexuals to work and participate in the fights for women and advertising gender equality in your own surroundings and so strengthen the struggle for gender and rights equality and help to level the road for nullification of the discriminating laws. We expect both the women’s liberation movements and their leaders to put aside their personal prejudice and fight openly in the in eye of the public for the rights of lesbian women and homosexuals because the fault is not with women nor with homosexuality; only faulty laws exist.
We congratulate all the women of our country, especially lesbian women, on March 8th international women’s day.
To live is the certain right of every woman and man and they are all equal.
A group of Iranian GLBT webblogers:
Arezoo SALEHI (Spokeswoman for RAHA Internet Radio) e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Aryan VARJAVANDI (Secretary-General of Persian Gay & Lesbian Organization) e-mail: email@example.com
Delkadeh (A Persian Socio-cultural GLBT e-magazine) e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Payam SHIRAZI (Editor-in-chief of Cheragh e-magazine) e-mail: email@example.com
PARSI_Spokesman &_Secretary of Human Rights Affairs_Persian Gay & Lesbian Organization
Cell Phone: 0090 555 42 30 360 (Turkey)
Mehdi a native-born Iranian Gay speaks out his persecution and quest for asylum in UK
My name is Mehdi. I am 26 years old. I was born in Shiraz, Iran. I am gay and I have been lots of problems with the Iranian government because of my sexuality and due to that problem I had to flew from my country and I came to England on 17/11/2002. I applied for asylum seekers in United Kingdom and my asylum case was refused in both interview and court. Now I have just been given a court date on 28/03/2006. For further information please finds attached document. I finished my higher education at the age of 18 and then I started a computer course for 2 years and I then had a diploma in computing as well. I completed this course at Hamyar net. I lived with my parents until one year ago before my problem started. I am a homosexual and this is why I have a problem living in my country.
I started military service in 18.11.1380, which on a British calendar would be 7th February 2002. at the age of 12 or 13 I realized that my sexual attraction is towards boys. I never got on with any girls. I the school I used to hang around with boys and I realized that I liked to get closed to them. I was about 15 years old when I really realized that I wanted to get involved. At this time I found myself a close male friend his name was Payman and he was older than me. He was 21 years old. I started a sexual relationship with Payman but it did not last long as he was accepted to go to University and he left Shiraz and went to Mash’had to study.
At this time I started different classes, computer classes to take my mind of Payman. My next-door neighborhood son whose name was Sina got a new computer and asked me to train him. I started going to his house for this purpose. I started trusting him and got friendly with him. One day after we had finished studying we started talking about sex and I told him my sexual preference was boy. Sina was younger than me and was interested. I asked him whether he was interested in me. He said yes I would like to get close to you. That day we had sexual relation. After that I left his house and went back my home.
After this for 3 days I did not go to his house. On the third day his father and mother came to my house and they screaming at my mum and dad and telling them what had happened. What I had done to their son. At the time I was not at home but when I came back my mum and dad were so angry. My father started hitting me and told me that next door is going to complain about you to the authorities. They are saying that you raped their son and that I had been a bad influence on him. Their son had told the parents what had happened.
Because this was a serious accusation at first of denied any relationship but when I realized that my mum and dad knew all about the event what had really happened. I told them that I was homosexual and this was something I could not help. They said that I did not know what I was doing that I was young. My father said he would deal with the matter and try to sort the problem between the two families and not go to the authorities. My father went to their house and I don’t what was said but a complaint was not made. This matter was forgotten.
From that time my father’s attitude toward me changed. He became much harder on me. He started controlling me; he wanted to know where I was going, what time I was coming back and whom I was seeing. He told me to come home early. My life was getting very hard. This went on until I finished my higher education. I did not have any further close relationship with anyone.
In the summer of 1999, when I finished my diploma I found myself another boyfriend, his name was Reza. We started having a sexual relationship. We became very close. Most of the time we saw each other at his house sometimes he would come to my house, My father thought he was just my friend. The friendship went on for a couple of years before my father became suspicious. One day my father got very cross with me and asked me not to bring Reza to the house any more. He banned me from bringing any friends to the house and said I know that you are up to what you are doing is dirty and shameful. This time I stood up for myself and said "I can not do what you are asking" this started an argument between us and I told him I would leave the house because this is who I am. My father said I had to go.
I left my fathers house at the beginning of December 2001. at the beginning I went to Reza’s house I stayed there for a week but the situation was not good there as his father and mother were suspicious of what was going on. So I left his house. For a month or two I was moving from different friends houses.
I then decided to go for my military service as I had stopped studying. I started military service on 7th February 2002. I spent my first tree months training at the camp in Karaj. I was then dispersed to Kachoe prison, which was in Karaj.
The first three months was the most difficult time of my life as they trained us so hard as our positions were to be soldiers in the prison. My family did not know where I was. I only told my sister where I was.
I had to stay in that prison until I had completed my military service, which in Iran is 21 months. At the beginning I became very depressed and home sick. I tried to change myself. The time that they would give me a day off to travel to Tehran to stay with my cousin; I talked to my cousin about my problem and he tried to help me by finding me a girlfriend. This did not work and I could not cope with the girl. I said to my cousin this is not me.
As I was doing my duty in prison I got involved with another soldier who had the same job as me and stayed at the same place. We realized that we had the same feeling toward each other and I started telling him what had happened to me and why I joined the military service. We started a sexual relationship. In this prison where we were working it had lots of land where you could walk. At the south of this land they were making a mosque where soldiers could pray. Because the building was not completed nobody was there so we were able to have some privacy.
This happened three or four times. On 29.7.1381 on the Iranian calendar which is the 21st October 2002 on the British calendar, we were at this place together having sex. I heard a noise, I became scared and I tried to quickly get out of that situation. I heard the door slamming and heard someone running. I looked out of the window and saw a soldier running, I was scared. I told my friend to go to the dormitory and if anyone asks anything just deny it. At the time I was very scared and because I had previous experience of what would happen, I thought I would have to escape. This would be very difficult as nobody was allowed out unless you had a letter specifying that you are on vacation or had temporary leave.
At this time I thought the best way to get out of the prison was to pretend I was very sick so that they would have to take me to hospital. I pretended to faint and I threw myself on the floor. Two soldiers came to help me. Straight away they called an ambulance and they took me to a hospital called Bonyad Shahid, which is the military hospital. They hospitalized me for a night.
At 4 A.M. that night I opened a window in my room and I escaped from my room. I ran from the hospital. I hired a taxi and I went to Tehran.
When I arrived (Tehran) rang my cousin and told him where I was. I told him to come and see me. He came and I told him what had happened he was very upset. I was very scared because of the person whom I had a relationship with. He was still inside the prison and he knew my cousins address, under pressure or torture he may give this information to them.
My cousin took me to his friend’s house until we could find out what was happening. The next day, 2 officers from two different ranks both based in the prison, one being Dejban Markazi which controls the army and the other from Aghidaty Siasi, they are like intelligence agents came to my cousins house looking for me. My cousin said he did not know where I was. They left a telephone number and asking him to contact them as soon as he knew.
After this my cousin came to see me and told me what had happened. I became very scared. We decided to stay there and not go out of the house. The next day my father rang my cousin and asked if he knew where I was. My cousin was surprised that he wanted to contact me. He asked why he was looking for me. My father told him that a few people from the intelligence service where looking for me and that they have an arrest warrant for me. My father told my cousin that he though that they were patrolling our house and the phone, so he came out to phone my cousin and see what is happening.
My cousin told him that I was safe and not to worry. Straight away my father talked with my brother in law and decided to send me out of Iran. For that reason, my brother-in-laww came to Tehran to help me leave the country. My brother in law came on Friday, which was four days after the event. My brother-in-law and my cousin found an agent for me. I don’t know how much money they gave him as this was arranged by my brother-in-law but I know it was a lot. This took about five days for the agent to arrange everything to me to flee Iran.
The following Thursday the agent came to the house I was in and they put me in a car and took me to Oromiyeh, which is near Iran and Turkish border. I arrived there Friday morning where I was then taken to a house. I stayed Friday all day and spent the night there. Saturday morning a man drove me to the border. Most of the time I was asleep; when I awoke I was in a village called Salas, which is still in Iran. When we passed this village we arrived at a place were a Kurdish man was waiting with another boy who wanted to cross the border as well. They put us on a donkey and we had to ride the donkey over the mountain. It was so tiring.
At the time we left by donkey it was 2 P.M. this was on 2nd November 2002. It took us 21 or 22 hours by donkey and by walking till we arrived in Turkey at a city called Van. When we arrived in Van there was another man waiting for us called Ali, He put us in a bus and took us somewhere.
I spent a night on the bus and when arrived in Istanbul there was agent waiting who took us to a house, we were not allowed to leave the house without his permission. The next day he took us somewhere where he took our photographs. We were then sent back to the house where we staying about two weeks. On the 17th November 2002 the agent came and took me to the airport in Istanbul. He gave me a blue passport and two tickets. He said from now on you have to manage yourself. He said be calm and follow the man is it front of you. Follow him and do as he does.
I got on the plane there was one stop where I stayed in the airport for 4 hours. We changed planes and I could still see the man I had been pointed out so I followed him. He never talked to me. The whole journey took a long time it was so stressful I did not really look at the time. The next stop I had to get off the plane. I still followed the man. I passed through immigration and showed my passport. I came out of the airport this man was outside the airport and told me welcome to London now. He said let me look at your passport. He took my passport and my ticket ad he never gave it back to me. He gave me 20 Pounds and said just go and introduce yourself to the police.
As I did not have anywhere to go straight away I phoned my brother in law in Iran and told him that the agent had just left me. I told him I was scared and did not know what to do. He asked for the number of the phone box I was using. He told me to wait there until someone phones you. I stayed there for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes my brother in law called me back and told me to wait for another call. Someone did phone and asked where I was because I did not know where I was, I gave the phone to a stranger so the stranger gave the information to this man. He than came and picked me up.
The man told me he did not have a lot of information about refugees but he had a nephew who came here as a refugee and he is in Nottingham. He bought me a ticket and sent me here. His nephew came to the bus station and picked me up. His real name is Ali but call him Pejman. He took me to his house for the night. The next day I came to see French and company with Pejman on the 18th November 2002 and asked for adviced and help.
I have already been to refugee action that has taken me to YMCA and given me some vouchers. I am still waiting for my NASS and a house to be sorted for me. If I was to return to Iran, straight away they would arrest me, it is obvious that I would be executed because under Islamic law I have committed a sin. When they come to my fathers house they told him that is what I have done and that this would be may punishment.
March 21, 2006
Yet Another Gay Iranian Faces Deportation from England to Iran
U.K. Gay News reports today that yet another young gay Iraniian is living under threat of deportation from the United Kingdom back to Iran, where he would face immediate arrest by the police, and quite possibly execution, for being gay. Today’s report follows the March 16 Doug Ireland report (see Report #5 above) on Mehdi, a 26-year-old gay Iranian who faces a deportation hearing in the U.K. on March 28. Two gay Iranian exiles in the U.K. committed suicide in the last two years when they were ordered deported back to Iran, in fear of the torture and execution they knew they would face there at the hands of the authoritarian religious government.
The young man in this new report, called Ramin in the UK Gay News article for security reasons, and now in his mid-twenties, was a college student and visitng at his boyfriend’s apartment four years go when plainclothes basiji — the religious para-police used by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to enforce its lethal anti-gay morality campaign — raided it.
They knew Ramin was gay. The basiji "are the worst kind of police,” Ramin told UKGN. “I was so scared, and knew I had to do something very fast.” Ramin literally fled for his life, escaping over the rooftops and going to a sympathetic uncle. He could not go to his immediate family. ‘They might have tried to kill me if they knew I was gay,’ he admitted. One of the problems was that, as is traditional in Iran, Ramin had become engaged at birth to an Iranian girl – a distant relative – who was born on the same day. ‘We were exactly the same age, we grew up together, went to the same school – she was my best friend. As I gay man, I didn’t want to let her down.’
Ramin journeyed secretly to the north west of Iran and then set off on a 3-day hike over the mountains and across the border into Turkey. ‘I knew that I could not stay in Turkey as there is homophobia there as well,’ he said. So he traveled to Istanbul where he planned his escape into a European Union country. He stowed away with three others on a lorry carrying farm machinery, the driver not knowing of their presence. And for three long days he endured a journey to an unknown destination. It was winter. It was cold.
‘I asked myself at the time if it was all worth it,’ he said. ‘There was one period on the journey when I went about 18 hours without food or water – and it was so cold.’ After three days, the lorry reached its destination. Ramin got off and found himself in Dover. He was spotted by a security guard and hand over to the British authorities. He was treated well by British immigration, he said. ‘I did not speak English then. Through an interpreter, I applied for political asylum. ‘They were very friendly and I was sent to a hostel for a good night’s sleep – and some food,’ he said. ‘And in the hostel, I was treated very well.’
Ramin was allowed to stay in the short term. After two months, he was called to the Home Office immigration facility in Croydon. ‘Although it was very busy there, they did try to help me,’ he recalled. “I was interviewed and asked how I managed to get out of Iran and to England. ‘It was at this interview I told them I was gay.’ The interviewing officer was a Muslim woman. ‘She told me that there was not enough evidence,’ Ramin said. ‘She just didn’t believe me – there is not enough evidence,’ he repeated. He was expecting the worse. And sure enough a letter from the Home Office arrived. It refused him asylum.
Then came the appeal procedure. And Ramin was allocated a solicitor who he said ‘was not very good I was not even told that I had a tribunal appeal, so I missed that. And when I questioned the solicitor, I was told that they were sorry, but they forgot to tell me.’
A year after his arrival in the United Kingdom came Ramin’s one and only day in court. ‘Again, I was disappointed with my legal representation. It was as though they had little time for my case,’ he said.
In an ironic twist to Ramin’s story, he got involved with an Iranian Christian organisation. ‘They told me that I could be cured of being gay and they promised me that if I went along with them, I would be able to stay in England,’ he said. He admitted that he was confused. ‘I was desperate for help,’ he said. ‘Even this Christian group failed to turn up in court.’ The judge postponed the court hearing for a month. But when the case was resumed, there was no help for Ramin. The judge found for the Home Office and not long after came the letter saying he was going to be deported. Up to then, Ramin had not made contact with the gay community. But he then started getting contacts. ‘To be honest, I thought that I would be let down by them as well,’ he said.
Ramin was proved to be wrong. Two years ago, he met “Bill” – again, not his real name. It was not long before the couple became partners. Through the gay community, Ramin met an immigration advisor.The result now is that his case is “under investigation”. Even so, Ramin fears a knock on the door – or a letter arriving. ‘I love my country, but not the political system,’ he said. “If there wasn’t a problem of me being gay, I would never have left.’
He is well aware of reports from Iran in the past year of hangings of gays in Iran. ‘Yes, it goes on,” he insisted. “The religious courts do execute men and women because they are gay. The basiji see to that." For now, Ramin and Bill live together happily in suburbia, and are about to celebrate two years together as partners. That, they both consider, should be enough evidence for the Home Office."
April 20, 2006
Iran leads Mideast in fighting AIDS –Efforts require a delicate approach
by Hannah Allam
Tehran – It took 30 meetings just to create a slim AIDS awareness handbook for Iran’s conservative high schools.
A drawing of a condom disappeared early on; a photo of a syringe survived. A mention of sexual transmission was approved, but only with a reminder that sex before marriage is forbidden. Even after the government’s wordsmiths were satisfied, AIDS workers in Tehran had to take the book south to the holy city of Qom, the spiritual center of Iran’s all-powerful clergy. To everyone’s surprise, the clerics endorsed it.
Iran’s fight against the spread of HIV hinges on a delicate give-and-take between activists who talk frankly about sex and drugs, and the ruling ayatollahs, who fiercely protect the Islamic republic’s puritan image. The combination has made Iran the Middle East leader in preventing HIV and AIDS. The country’s program is being exported to Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Pakistan and other Muslim nations.
” I told my colleagues in the United Arab Emirates: “You’re not more rigid than us. We’re the only country in the world where it’s the law to wear a head scarf, where it’s a pure Islamic government, where you can’t drink. If we have a prevention program, why don’t you?”, said Arash Alaei, an AIDS researcher in Iran. In a region where other Muslim governments ignore the epidemic, quarantine HIV-infected people or preach abstinence as the only solution, Iran’s approach is especially remarkable. It still doles out floggings to Iranians caught with alcohol, but it gives clean syringes and methadone treatment to heroin addicts. Health workers pass out condoms to prostitutes. Government clinics in every region offer free HIV testing, counseling and treatment. A state-backed magazine just began a monthly column that profiles HIV-positive Iranians, and last year the postal service unveiled an AIDS awareness stamp.
This year the government will devote an estimated $30 million to the program. One of Iran’s most acclaimed advances comes from its prisons, where hundreds of drug-addicted inmates sometimes share the same makeshift syringe to inject heroin smuggled in. In a startling acknowledgment of sex and drugs even in its most closely guarded quarters, the Tehran administration has made condoms and needles available in detention centers across the country.
” Iran now has one of the best prison programs for HIV in not just the region, but in the world,” said Hamid Setayesh, coordinator for the U.N. AIDS office in Tehran. “They’re passing out condoms and syringes in prisons. This is unbelievable. In the whole world, there aren’t more than six or seven countries doing that.” Iran’s national response still faces obstacles, especially when it comes to reducing the shame and isolation that HIV-infected Iranians endure. The government reports 12,000 people with HIV; health workers say the real figure is closer to 70,000. Many HIV-positive Iranians are reluctant to tell relatives and co-workers about their diagnosis.
With the election last summer of the ultraconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, many AIDS workers feared a rollback of their hard-won progress. Indeed, some new Cabinet members expressed disapproval of the national campaign’s growing boldness in addressing the sexual transmission of HIV. Then Iran’s characteristically unpredictable president surprised AIDS workers at a governmental meeting on the intertwined problems of opiate addiction and HIV by coming out in favor of distributing methadone.
AIDS-prevention specialists admit that they can’t know whether that remark signals that Iran’s program won’t be scaled back, but Alaei, for one, is optimistic.
” Four years ago, if you talked about condoms, you couldn’t go on the air,” he said, referring to state-run television. “This year, they said, “You are free to say what you like.’ I just kept saying: “Use condoms. Use condoms.
April 26, 2006
Iran Hacks Websites to Bury Anti-Gay Pogrom
Websites of gay Iranian organizations and of groups that support and advocate for gay Iranians were sabotaged and driven off-line last week by hackers for the Tehran regime, and are still off-line. The goal of the hack attack was to bury news of, and stifle protest about, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s massive anti-gay pogrom. Among those sites shut down is the multilingual website of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization — PGLO, Iran’s largest gay group, with 29,000 people on its e-mail list and secretariats in four countries.
The PGLO website has sections in Persian, English, French, and German, and contains a raft of documentation of the horrors the Islamic Republic of Iran is perpetrating against its gay citizens, including photos of its torture victims and their wounds. The website also includes access to a monthly gay magazine in Persian , Cheragh, and Persian-language streaming radio web casts aimed at Iranian gays.
The PGLO’s website has been replaced by a page from a non-political commercial gay shopping service; in the upper-right hand corner of the home page displayed instead of the PGLO’s, one reads: “This domain is parked, pending renewal, or has expired.” The hack attack has completely disrupted the PGLO’s communications, since the group’s officers and key activists all have e-mail addresses that function through their website, and depend on the Internet to communicate with gay Iranians inside and outside Iran. Reached by telephone in Turkey, PGLO human rights secretary Arsham Parsi (right) said they were working to repair the site and hope to be back online soon.
Also sabotaged at the beginning of last week and driven off-line was the website of the militant British gay rights group OutRage, which has been prominent in mobilizing global protest against Iran’s reign of terror against gay people — and which had just announced that it was about to release an important new report on Iran’s lethal anti-gay pogrom. This carefully documented and footnoted report, written for OutRage by Simon Forbes after a nine-month investigation, is based on public and press reports, official documents, interviews, and translations from the Persian; the reporting of Gay City News on the repression of gays in Iran is cited at several points in the report.
Among the report’s conclusions:
“ The Iranian dictatorship now realises it is not good PR to execute people for merely being gay. That risks an international outcry. To pre-empt condemnation, the Iranians now craftily pin on same-sex lovers additional charges involving pedophilia, violence and rape. It is a clever tactic that has hook-winked even some human rights groups…The regime clearly does not want its people to view same-sex relations as something a respectable person might engage in with consent. That could present Lavaat [the Persian word for sodomy] as something desirable and positive, and this might encourage tolerance – and even curiosity and experimentation.
The clerical regime wants to depict sodomy in the worst possible light to deter and discourage its practice. To do this, it needs to present gay and lesbian people as repellent, dangerous individuals. In these circumstances, the mere charge of Lavaat is not sufficient. To prompt revulsion and support for executions, homosexuality needs to be associated in the public mind with violence and child abuse….” (Left, a previously unpublished photo of Mahmoud and Ayaz, the two teenage lovers hanged in the public square of Mashad, Iran, last July for homosexuality)
To get around the hack attack, the first part of the OutRage report on Iran has been posted on the personal website of OutRage founder Peter Tatchell (left), and you can read it by clicking here.Tatchell said that this “is the first document in a series of documents that will be published by OutRage! in the coming weeks and months. These documents expose the state-sanctioned torture and murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people by the Iranian clerical regime.
Mr. Forbes’s pioneering investigation is based on information from credible, verified sources inside Iran. It provides clear evidence of homophobic honor killings, arrests, torture and executions.” Websites of other exile Iranian groups critical of the Tehran regime’s human rights record have also been sabotaged, including Iran Focus and the website of the U.K.’s Ahwazi Friendship Society (which advocates for the 4.5 Ahwazi Arabs who live in a formerly autonomous region in Southwest Iran.)
Iran has a long history of Internet censorship, including the blocking, filtering, and sabotage of websites. Decisions on which websites should be targeted for government action are made by a secret five-member committee in Iran’s Ministry of Communication. This committee is dominated by officers from the Ministry of Intelligence and by members from the Organization for Islamic Culture and
Communication, an ultra-conservative religious group which is mostly funded by the office of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Supreme Leader, a constitutionally-established post currently held since 1989 by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right), successor to the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Supreme Leader is the highest-ranking political authority in the nation. According to John Palfrey (left), executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, “Iran has put in place one of the world’s most extensive and sophisticated Internet censorship regimes. Along with China, Iran has committed to adapting its filtering practices with changes in Internet technology, which suggests that the cat and mouse game between those who would speak freely and those who would stop them is bound to continue. Bloggers who write in Persian in Iran have a much harder job today in trying to reach their audience than bloggers in most other parts of the world."
Last June, the Harvard University-based OpenNet Initiative (ONI) released "Internet Filtering in Iran," a report that documents the degree and extent to which the Iranian government controls the information environment in which its citizens live, including websites, blogs, email, and online discussion forums. This report indicated that websites, blogs, and e-mails with gay and lesbian content accounted for a major part of government censorship and interference. According to Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based advocacy organization for freedom of the press, “Privately-owned ISPs [Internet Service Providers] began to develop timidly in Iran in 1994, in the shadow of the big state-run ISP, Data Communication Company of Iran (DCI), which is directly controlled by the Intelligence Ministry.
They have to be approved by both this ministry and the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry and must have filters for websites and personal e-mail. All users are required to promise in writing not to access ‘non-Islamic’ sites,” under threat of imprisonment. That ukase includes interdiction of access to websites for or about lesbians and gays. Reporters Without Borders has also named Supreme Leader Ali Khameini as one of the globe’s 16 “Predators of Press Freedom,” defined as those who “have the power to censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and, in the worst cases, murder journalists."
June 14, 2006
An Iranian Gay Activist’s-Arsham Parsi-Moving Plea
Yesterday, on June 13 in Toronto, Arsham Parsi, human rights secretary of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO), was the featured speaker at the gala dinner jointly held by Egale Canada (Canada’s national gay rights group) and ARC International (the Canadian-based organization that works on international gay projects).
Parsi, who is under death sentence in Iran for being a gay activist, was recently granted permanent asylum in Canada, and moved there last month from Turkey, where he had been coordinating the efforts to support gay refugees from Iran’s anti-gay reign of terror. I’ve been working with Parsi for a year now as I’ve been reporting on the lethal anti-gay pogrom in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and I’ve been deeply impressed by this selfless young man’s dedication to the Iranian gay freedom struggle, and by his courage.
Below is the text of his moving speech to the Canadian gay activists:
My name is Arsham Parsi. I am the spokesperson and secretary of human rights affairs of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization. We have been in existence for three years, and through this period we have become recognized by many gay and lesbian organizations throughout the world. We based most of our activities through internet communication. We must communicate solely by internet as we do not have the freedom to work in a public forum in our country. We do not have any sponsors locally in Iran as the religious extremists do not support gay rights, but would rather see all LGBT people silenced.
However, we are recognized by individuals and organizations that have been generous in their financial, political, and moral support. Our main objective in the PGLO is to bring about a safe environment for all LGBTs in Iran whether it be at home, work, school, or in public; Freedom from harassment, torture, imprisonment, and religious intolerance.
I mentioned that I am the spokesperson of this organization, but let me add that I see and value this job far beyond what a regular employee might assume its organizational position to be and work for it. It is the most important thing in my life to be the spokesperson. It is a strong love and devotion that I have within me. There is a Music of Freedom that is in my heart. It is bursting inside me. I want everybody to hear this music, this music of freedom that my brothers and sisters in Iran cannot hear or are not allowed to hear.
I became the spokesperson voluntarily because a voice was needed to be heard above the shrill cries of gay condemnation of the Islamic government. When my transsexual friend committed suicide under the pressure of her society and her family, and I saw her withered body and cold contracted hands on her breast I became the spokesperson. When my friend, Nima, a young gay man took his life due to police brutality and under the pressure of his family by eating arsenic, and I saw his lifeless body that slept like a beautiful angel I heavily cried and I became the spokesperson.
When I saw my friends in the hallways of the central court of Shiraz, and heard their cries of pain from the lashes that had tortured them I cried too. But this also made me stronger in my desire to speak out. I learned about a gay couple who had celebrated with a private function their new lives together. The security forces discovered this celebration and started to trace this couple. Fortunately, this couple were able to escape detention, and one of them could escape to Turkey.
But we surely know that not many other gay people in Iran have been as successful in getting through their cases and saving their lives. When the Islamic government forbade the access of transsexuals to the public buildings in the big cities of Iran, when a gay man was severely beaten in a park in the central Tehran, when another gay was sentenced to the lash in Esfahan, when a group of my friends were detected in chat rooms and entrapped by the police, when another transsexual was severely beaten to the point where she lost 50 percent of her hearing in one ear, when gays were verbally and sexually abused in a police station in some cities of Iran, and in many other outrageous instances there was no one to speak for them and to reveal to the world what Iranian LGBTs suffer.
We have a critical situation in Iran that must be resolved. Thus, I became the spokesperson of the PGLO to air the grievances and to show the world the true situation of persecutions that we suffer. I call upon all noble-minded people to stop, listen, and make an effort to help us. I had to escape from my homeland as a death warrant was issued by the Islamic government. That is how the Islamic government rewards members of LGBT community for speaking out for human rights. I have gone through many hardships in reaching my new homeland.
Today, I am truly glad to be in a supportive and modern society that is progressive and which understands exactly how I feel. I am speaking tonight because so many of my brothers and sisters are caged birds, unable to sing a song of freedom. I was able to take a flight of freedom through the efforts of PGLO and your help and reach here. Other birds are waiting to fly freely. They need to see a dawn of freedom in Iran. I am positive that this glorious dawn is not too far from now. I am determined to register the PGLO in Toronto.
Iranian LGBT people need to be in a direct and tangible relationship with an organization that claims to be their voice in a broader spectrum. How can they finely experience the sweet taste of unity and togetherness while seating lonely in their rooms? I have arrived in Canada with a burden of responsibility of working for my LGBT friends. With your help we can achieve all we set out to do. I have received a welcome to Canada by very warm hands and I am sure that my hands will be taken with more hands.
Where are those arms that will open and embrace my tired and tormented body? Where are those ears that will listen to my painful stories? And where are those eyes and lips that will console my pains through the words that they can tell me? They exist and I will find them. I am ready to give my hands and offer my shoulders to all my LGBT fellows and friends to put their heads on and cry for their time that has brought them this much of injustice. I will summon their tears and motivate them to change their sighs of regret to the shouts for freedom in the battle against ignorance, outrage and injustice in our society.
June 25, 2006
Fearless in Canada-a beacon of tolerance and human dignity
Canada is the new home of choice for many homosexuals fleeing repressive countries.
by David Graham
They come from countries where they must hide their identity, where homosexuals are shunned, beaten, even hanged. But now they’ve found refuge in a country that has become a beacon of tolerance and human dignity. Arsham Parsi had barely crossed the border into Turkey when he received the email. It was shattering. Two gay teenagers, it said, had been tortured and publicly hanged in his homeland of Iran. Mahmoud Asgari, 16, and Ayaz Marhoni, 18, were executed because they had contravened strict Islamic morality laws that command the death penalty for gay sex. "I had never met them, but I cried and cried," says the small, immaculately groomed gay activist, who won refugee status in Canada last month.
Parsi, 25, fled Iran in March 2005, the moment he learned through friends that government officials were looking for him. He was in Ankara and applying for asylum in Canada when he learned about the teens’ fate, which could very well have been his own. "The judge has four choices," explains Parsi with remarkably little emotion. "You can be hanged, stoned to death, beheaded or pushed from a precipice."
In the mid-1990s, an exiled Iranian gay-rights group, Homan, estimated that 4,000 homosexuals had been executed by the government since 1979. As Toronto Pride Week reaches its culmination with today’s Pride Parade, one could easily forget that in many parts of the world, it is extremely dangerous to be gay. In some cases, it’s not just the state that harasses and sometimes executes homosexuals, but the intolerant citizenry as well. So, for some foreign-born celebrants and their loved ones, Pride Week’s theme of "fearless in 2006" strikes a particularly resonant chord.
Because it arguably sets the gold standard for gay rights around the world, Canada is the new home of choice for many homosexuals fleeing repressive countries. Only a few other nations (Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain) can match our record of legalizing gay marriage and adoptions by gay and lesbian couples, or our strong anti-discrimination laws. " I think Canada is a beacon of hope for a lot of refugee claimants," says immigration lawyer and gay community activist Michael Battista, who has represented many gays and lesbians seeking refugee status.
"We are known internationally for having one of the fairest refugee determination systems, where a person can actually go face to face with a decision maker and try to persuade that decision maker on the basis of their claim. Where (lesbian, gay, bi and transgendered) asylum seekers are concerned, Canada does have a remarkable reputation.
" I’ve asked many claimants why they chose Canada, and they tell me, `I first started thinking about it when I heard about the marriage case. I thought this is a country that will respect who I am.’
"Of his homeland, Parsi notes: "Gay men are tortured routinely. When I heard his screams and saw the lash marks on my friend Amir’s back, I felt his pain."
Parsi, who lived with his parents in Shiraz and was a manager at a lighting company, knew his activism was punishable by death. By voicing opposition to Islamic laws on the Internet, particularly through the three-year-old Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization, by helping gay men gain access to HIV tests and by secretly distributing condoms, he was putting his life on the line. Parsi and his Iranian friends lived in constant fear of detection, entrapment by police and blackmail by strangers. Their social life was conducted underground, where house parties were routinely raided by plainclothes police officers, and a private evening of dancing and music could erupt into a nightmare of terror and humiliation.
Pressed further into isolation, gay men in Iran use the Internet to communicate with relative anonymity, their conversations filled with stories of harassment, beatings, suicides, executions and "honour killings" by family members. (Iran also bans lesbian relations, punishing offenders initially with whipping. A fourth offence can yield the death sentence.) Settled in Toronto less than two months, Parsi is enrolled in English courses and hopes to study human rights at university. He continues to raise awareness about conditions in Iran.
"I couldn’t continue to do this work while living in Iran," he says. "I would have been killed. But I can do it here … I must pay a `freedom tax’ — I must continue to work to help gays and lesbians at home." Iran is not the only country where those convicted of consenting adult homosexual relations are subject to the death penalty. According to a study conducted by Daniel Ottosson, a student of public law at Stockholm’s Sodertorn University, similar laws exist in Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and some parts of Nigeria, Somalia and the Chechen Republic in Russia.
The whole realm of discrimination and intolerance can get complicated when you factor in religion, cultural values and gaps between official rules and what people will accept. And in some nations, the laws themselves are complex. Countries including Algeria, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Lebanon and Trinidad and Tobago prohibit consensual homosexual behaviour for both men and women. Others, such as Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Malaysia and Uganda, ban only homosexual behaviour between men.
The International Lesbian and Gay Association, which tracks intolerance around the world, says sex between women is illegal in 51 nations, while sex between men is illegal in 76. Parsi notes that in his native country, homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death, yet sex-change operations are legal — because, he says, they are not mentioned in the Qur’an. In fact, according to an article last year in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, Tehran is considered the sex-change capital of the world, attracting patients from Eastern Europe and Arab countries.
And, says Parsi, while 27 per cent of gender-reassignment patients genuinely feel they are trapped in the wrong body, at least 45 per cent are actually young gay men who think their chances of survival will be better if they simply became women. He cautions, however, that transgendered people are subject to persecution. In Russia, meanwhile, although homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993, intolerance is endemic. Last month in Moscow, an attempt at a Gay Pride parade met with extreme resistance. Mayor Yuri Luzhkov banned the May 27 parade, prompting a group of gay activists organized by Nikolai Alekseev to march anyway, one by one, toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a symbol of Russia’s victory over fascism in World War II.
Police closed the entrance to the tomb, where the activists were harassed and beaten by skinheads and people holding religious icons. Alekseev was arrested but says he has not yet been charged or fined. Though the small "parade" was cut short, in Alekseev’s eyes it was an enormous success. "It was the first time that the Russian media paid so much attention to this issue," he said, speaking by phone last week during a visit to Paris. "Coverage was mostly balanced." The story captured the attention of news organizations around the world. Alekseev was surprised by the reaction, most notably an invitation to debate the issue on a Russian television talk show with a member of the government. "We’ve been writing letters for years," he says. "We got replies that didn’t mean anything. Now it’s on the political agenda."
Victor, 57, was a gay activist and archivist and a university professor in Russia before gaining refugee status in Canada in 2001. "I spent years collecting articles, letters and documents about gays and lesbians in Russia," he says, clutching a manuscript he’s compiled for a book on homophobia in his native country. As the recent attempt at a parade in Moscow revealed, there’s a huge gulf there between legislated and actual tolerance. Victor believes it was too soon for a Pride parade in Moscow and fears the recent fracas will incite more hostility. "We don’t need a gay revolution," he says. "We need a gay evolution."
Victor, who had married a lesbian for appearances (a common practice there) in 1983, felt an impending sense of danger just before leaving Russia — particularly on one occasion when two plainclothes police officers approached him and asked if he would collaborate with them, presumably to out colleagues. "I was in shock," he recalls. "My apartment was full of gay papers that I’d spent my life collecting. I would be an enemy for my community." Fearful, he smuggled his incriminating papers out of the country with the assistance of lesbian friends and made his way to Canada. Now, though he struggles to assimilate, he yearns for home and "would really like to go back one day to continue my gay studies and to see old friends."
Immigration lawyer Battista understands how difficult it is for many gay people to seek asylum in Canada.
"Often, they have spent a lifetime suppressing, hiding and lying about their sexual orientation to save their lives," says the lawyer, who has spent the past 14 years assisting gays and lesbians who fear harassment, torture and even death if Canada won’t let them in. "Soon after they’ve arrived in Canada they are at a hearing, and they are asked to prove one, that they are homosexual, and two, that they cannot return home," says Battista, who leads about 40 homosexual refugee applicants through the process each year.
"In many cases, they haven’t directly experienced problems of persecution. Because the conditions are so oppressive, they are too fearful to express their sexual orientation or sexual identity in any sense."
Battista recalls one of his earliest clients being an older man from Iran who was seeking protection based on his sexual orientation. "But he couldn’t even say the words. He was at the airport in tears of frustration trying to explain to the immigration officer why he was seeking asylum in Canada, and he was saying, `It’s because of who I am. It’s because of who I am,’ and the officer was asking, `Is it political? Is it religious?’
"And finally the officer said, `Are you gay?’ And the poor man burst into tears. That was the first time there had been an official recognition of who he was, his sexual orientation. That story will always stay with me."
Some gay refugees come here via the United States. A 35-year-old Turkish woman who asked that her name not be used lived in the United States illegally for 17 years before seeking asylum in Canada.
She had moved to New York as a teenager on a student visa, worked at low-paying jobs — at Wendy’s until her English improved, then in factories that required little or no documentation.
In 2003, she fell in love and disclosed her illegal status to her partner. But the Turkish woman could not get refugee status. In the States, unlike Canada, one cannot sponsor one’s same-sex partner for immigration. And according to U.S. immigration law, says Battista, there is, "considerable emphasis placed on proving past personal persecution."
In Canada, it’s enough to prove that the threat exists. But that was a challenge, the Turkish woman says, because "we couldn’t find anything about lesbians in Turkey. There are no laws about being lesbian in Turkey."
On Battista’s recommendation, the women filed a claim as a "refugee family." While the Turkish woman was the lead claimant, they won as a couple. "Her fear of returning to Turkey was recognized as justified by the refugee board," says Battista.
Vajdon Sohaili, 34, left Zimbabwe when he was 18. Like the Turkish woman, he moved to the United States with a student visa and stayed illegally. "I lived with the constant fear of being deported to Zimbabwe," he says of his country of origin, where male homosexuality is illegal. "And after 9/11, the fear deepened."
Sohaili worked as a personal assistant in southern California, fell in love with an American citizen in 2000 and, as the prospect of living a committed life with someone became a reality, he realized he’d have to legalize his status. But it wasn’t going to happen in the States, so Sohaili and his boyfriend came to Canada on May 2, 2005. They travelled the route of many refugees, driving to Buffalo and contacting Vive La Casa, a non-profit organization that walked them through the initial red tape and helped them get their interview at the border.
What if they couldn’t get asylum in Canada? To be together, they were even considering going to Zimbabwe, though the prospect was chilling. "The people of Zimbabwe are pushed to the extreme of economic hardship," says Sohaili. "It is not beyond the realm of possibility that some people would blackmail us, to profit from out vulnerable situation. It was a very dark moment … I still get nervous when I think about it."
But Sohaili was successful and now works in Toronto in communications. He says his American partner is "wounded deeply" by the way they were treated in the United States. By not allowing him to identify Sohaili as his partner, "they rejected his right to have a family." Though he’s grateful to live in Toronto, Sohaili can’t repress the nagging guilt that perhaps he should have gone back to Zimbabwe, risked the persecution and become "an activist for change. I will always admire people who fight, who are visible."
In 1992, Canada was one of the first countries to interpret the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees to allow people to make claims based on sexual orientation. "Then," says Battista, "as an awareness grew that this was a valid basis for making a claim, my clientele grew. And as Canada’s laws began recognizing same-sex relationships, and as they diverged from the laws south of the border, there were more clients from the United States wanting to come here to enjoy a quality of life they don’t have there."
Gay refugees make up about one-quarter of Battista’s cases, with the remainder involving sponsorships — Canadians in relationships with people from other countries with whom they’ve lived for at least a year — or skilled workers (mostly American) who simply want to move here. The refugees come from all over the world, he says. "I can’t think of a place that I have not been involved in representing people." To win a refugee case involving homosexuals, immigration lawyers have to establish two things: that their client is in fact gay, and that there is a risk of persecution in the client’s country of origin.
Immigration lawyer Max Berger, who has handled many refugee claims based on sexual orientation, acknowledges that there are false claims. But, he counters, "the system is full of bogus refugee claimants, whether they are citing political or religious discrimination. There is a core of genuine cases and a cluster of copycat cases." Berger even predicts false refugee claimants will attend today’s Pride parade to get photos they can present at their hearings. And he recalls an initial interview with one man who claimed refugee status based on his sexual orientation, then asked, "If this is successful can I sponsor my fiancée?"The answer was no.
Proving homosexuality can be difficult. Often it comes down to the decision maker’s intuition, a sort of professional gaydar. "It’s a real roll of the dice," says Battista. "The same decision maker dealing with a claimant from Indonesia, where there are no laws against homosexuality, went positive on that claim, then with another one from Singapore (where male homosexuality is illegal), she went negative.
" It makes it easier if the claimant is from a country where it is illegal to be gay. But it’s not a slam-dunk.You have a country like Singapore (where) there is a real dearth of evidence of persecution of gay men, not because it doesn’t happen but because gay people are afraid to come forward to tell their stories. So it would be easy for a refugee decision maker to reject the claim. "
Also, Battista continues, "the majority of refugee decision makers are not gay or lesbian, and there are certain heterosexual biases that prevent someone from truly being able to evaluate whether or not someone is gay or lesbian.
"This summer, the fellow whose lash marks so troubled Parsi — 24-year-old Amir — will move to Canada from Iran. Two years ago, he was caught in a massive Internet entrapment sweep that targeted gays throughout his country.
Amir was horrified when he realized he’d made a date to meet a member of Iran’s secret sex police, and he was punished with 100 lashes, administered in public.
But this was not his first run-in with the law. Amir was earlier arrested in a police raid on a house party. For his first offence, he was fined and released because the authorities could not prove sex had taken place. With two strikes against him, Amir’s life was in peril. So he followed Parsi’s path to freedom, first through Turkey and now, soon, to refugee status in Canada. The Canadian Embassy in Ankara relayed the good news to Parsi."My friend Amir is coming," he says tearfully. "He’s in Turkey. He’s been accepted."
LGBT Human rights in Iran at the Human Rights Council, Session 2
Arsham Parsi’s speech in 2nd Session of United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva :
Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen:
My name is Arsham Parsi. I am Secretary General of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization. PGLO for the past four years has volunteered its efforts to paint an accurate picture of LGBTsâ€™situaton in Iran . And we will spare no effort in the struggle to increase the basic human rights of Iranian LGBTs. Today, I have the immense responsibility of reporting the situation of Iranian LGBTs in but a few minutes. And, there is inevitably much that will be left unsaid. Our organization has prepared information packets that are available to you, and that you can study at your leisure to gain a better understanding of the living conditions and the hardships we face.
First of all let me thank the conveners of this gathering, and express my sincere appreciation to the organizers, who have provided us Iranian LGBTs with this opportunity, however brief, to express our concerns, and to demand our basic human rights after many years. But today is also an important day for us. Today is the anniversary of the first _expression of the desire for freedom by Iranian LGBTs- the first time we raised our voices. It was about three years ago we decided that since no one was hearing our voices, we should announce our existence and make our presence felt. Three years ago on October first, we asked our members, who numbered less than fifty at the time, to break their silence- to gather on a Yahoo chat room for a discussion, which we named "Celebration of Voices".
Some twenty individuals did sign on, but no voices were heard. Our fear and apprehension were so high that we could not even speak amongst ourselves. No one dared to utter a word. But although our "celebration of voices" passed in silence, we did write to each other. This October first is the third anniversary of our "celebration of voices". But now, we have a membership of more than five thousand, and millions can hear our voices. Iranian LGBTs stand here in Geneva today, in the seat of Human rights in the world and can break their long silence. This is truly the celebration of our voices.
And I hope that our gathering will raise international voice demanding that any form of discrimination, persecution, abuse and murder of LGBTs is intolerable. I hope that we can send a message to Iranian LGBTs that they are not alone, and that they are part of a global family. We want to say to Iranian families: â€œDo not drive your children away because they have a different sexual orientation- They need your support. We would like to say to all Iranians that the only difference between LGBTs and other Iranians is their sexual orientation- that human rights are for all, not the domain of only one group. We Iranians have to be united; to respect and defend each other’s rights, if we are to achieve freedom and democracy. We want to ask, â€œIf we do not recognize each other’s rights, how can we fight for freedom and democracy?
We in PGLO would like to tell the Iranian government that we, the LGBTs of Iran, solely because of our sexual orientation, are denied our civil rights; that we are not allowed to organize openly, or to assemble freely; that we are denied the right to register as an NGO. We would like to say that because of misinformation, we are even denied physical safety, and worst of all, because of anti-homosexual laws, we are forced into exile. But today we also recognize the rise of anti-Muslim stereotypes and racism in the West, and we condemn these racist expressions of Islamophobia. We condemn any portrayal of Islam as a lesser, violent religion. So we ask, not from the Western states, but from the Head of Islamic States, why the death penalty is applicable to LGBTs in nine countries, the majority of which are Islamic states. Therefore, we ask that if you believe Islam is not a religion of violence, then you must not consent to this travesty that is committed in the name of Islam in silence. We ask you to defend the rights of LGBTs in your countries.
Today, we would also like to say to countries that have accepted and gave safety to our refugees in their lands, and to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee: â€œIf Iranian LGBTs of leave their homeland, it is because they are persecuted and their rights are denied in Iran . By not properly supporting them and leaving then stranded in different countries, stateless and homeless, you also perpetuate the violation of their rights. We also want to tell the United Nations and its new Human Rights Council that the only words that define Iran today should not be "Uranium Enrichment." LGBTs, ethnic and religious minorities, Iranian women and children, Iranian workers and political activists; each and every Iranian is under pressure today and defending their rights must be on the top priority of this honorable organization.
PGLO objects to the lack of civil rights in Iran , and demands that the systematic violation of human rights in Iran be effectively addressed. PGLO declares its readiness to cooperate with the United Nations Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations which defend human rights, especially the rights of LGBTs, and will devote all its efforts in promoting peace and tolerance.
Finally PGLO asks all legal and civil rights organizations to coordinate their efforts in defense of human rights and the rights of LGBTs.
– Islamic republic of Iran’s Punishment code must decriminalize homosexuality.
– Homophobia should be fought against.
– The systematic denial of Human Rights in Iran should be ended.
– We are humans- Human Rights are our rights.
– Rights are never given, they are struggled for.
October 10, 2006
Human Rights Watch: Netherlands, Sweden Must Not Return Gay and Lesbian Asylum Seekers to Iran
Brussels – As the Netherlands mulls resuming deportations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender asylum seekers back to Iran, and Sweden begins such deportations again, both European governments must adhere to their international legal obligations not to send people back to the risk of torture, Human Rights Watch said today. In letters to Dutch and Swedish authorities, Human Rights Watch said that states cannot return people to countries where they face torture, ill-treatment or death. "As the Ahmedinejad government cracks down on dissent, this is the wrong time for the European governments to be considering new expulsions of gay or lesbian asylum seekers to Iran," said Scott Long, director of Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program. "Penalties for homosexual conduct in Iran range from torture to death. Returning people to the risk of torture would make the Netherlands and Sweden complicit in their fate."
Both governments imposed a moratorium on the deportation of rejected gay and lesbian asylum seekers to Iran in 2005 after reports of executions there for homosexual conduct. In February 2006, Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk first declared her intention to end the moratorium, stating that, "It appears that there are no cases of an execution on the basis of the sole fact that someone is homosexual. … For homosexual men and women, it is not totally impossible to function in society, although they should be wary of coming out of the closet too openly." But after strong protests from Dutch civil society and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Verdonk reinstated the ban for six more months, pending a review of conditions in Iran. That review is currently being completed.
Meanwhile, Sweden on September 29 announced that it would resume deporting gays and lesbians fleeing from persecution in Iran. Almost immediately, the Swedish Immigration Department decided to return a gay man to Iran, despite evidence from medical experts that he had previously undergone torture there. The case is under appeal. Article 111 of Iran’s criminal code, the Code of Islamic Punishments, states that lavat (sexual intercourse between men) "is punishable by death." Under Articles 121 and 122 of the Penal Code, tafkhiz (non-penetrative "foreplay" between men) is punishable by 100 lashes for each partner and by death on the fourth conviction. Article 123 of the Penal Code further provides that, "If two men who are not related by blood lie naked under the same cover without any necessity," each one will receive 99 lashes. Articles 127 to 134 stipulate that the punishment for sexual intercourse between women is 100 lashes; if the offense is repeated three times, the punishment is execution.
Human Rights Watch has documented torture and executions for homosexual conduct in Iran. Meanwhile, the government of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has tightened restrictions on civil society and punishments for dissent in recent months. Executions have increased, including death sentences for morals offenses. Human Rights Watch has received reliable reports that eight women and two men now face death by stoning after they were convicted of adultery. "Persecution for homosexual conduct in Iran is documented and undeniable," said Long. "Sending gay and lesbian asylum seekers back to face torture is a clear violation of international law."
The European Convention on Human Rights prohibits states from deporting individuals to countries where they may be at risk of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, or punishment. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Netherlands could not proceed with a deportation to Eritrea due to such a risk. The UN Convention against Torture, to which the Netherlands and Sweden are parties, states in Article 3 that, "No state shall expel, return (refouler) or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture." It also requires that "for the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations, including where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights."
16 October 2006
An Iranina gay activist who has fled the police needs your help
This is an urgent appeal on behalf of a courageous Iranian gay activist who has just managed to escape Iran .
Mani, who is 24 years old, has been serving as the Health Secretary of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO) in Iran for the last two years, providing AIDS and mental health counseling to Iranian LGBT people. (You can read an interview he gave while in Iran about his work there at ?http://gaycitynews.com/gcn_527/gayandunderground.html )
A little over three weeks ago, Mani’s employer in the pharmaceutical firm where he worked found out he was gay, and reported him to the police. The police — who thus were able to figure out that Mani was the person who ?had given recent interviews to the BBC and to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about the situation of gays and lesbians in Iran — raided Mani’s home several times looking for him. Fortunately, Mani was not at home ?when the police came to arrest him, and Mani took refuge temporarily at a friend’s house.
Mani’s father blocked Mani’s bank account so that he could not withdraw monies he had saved, in order to try to prevent Mani from leaving the country. But, with the help of a little money from friends, Mani managed to escape Iran in fear of his life, before the police could arrest him. Mani arrived a few days ago in Turkey — but he had to spend most of the little money he had borrowed to bribe a "passer" to get him out of Iran and across the border. Mani is now in Istanbul , absolutely penniless, and ?has been sleeping in a bus station. He has no warm clothes to protect him against the very cold and rainy seasonal winter weather in Turkey . He has applied for international refugee status as a political asylum-seeker with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but the granting of such status is long and cumbersome, and at the moment Mani is entirely without resources to sustain his life.
We are a global gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered family, and we need to help our own who are in desperate need — particularly courageous gay activists like Mani who have been persecuted for how they love and for defending the rights of our brothers and sisters. We at PGLO have scarcely any financial resources ourselves, since we do not ask dues from our membership, and while we have sent Mani a few paltry dollars, our treasury is bare.
Please consider making an urgent donation to help Mani survive in Turkey until he can be granted official refugee status by the U.N.H.C.R. and find asylum in a gay-friendly country. Even $10 or $20 would be enormously helpful.
You can help Mani now by clicking on the "Donate" button on the homepage of our website at http://www.pglo.net/ and using your credit card via the secure PayPal system.
Or, you mail a check to us and earmark it for Mani at:
41 Waddington Cr.
Toronto , Ontario , Canada
November 15, 2006
New Iran"Gay" Hanging Case Murky
The following article was written for Gay City News — New York’s largest gay weekly newspaper — which publishes it tomorrow:
The official Iranian news agency IRNA has reported that a man has been hanged in public in the city of Kermanshah on multiple criminal charges, including "sodomy" ("lavat" in Persian).
According to a translation of the IRNA dispatch made for the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO) by Hossein Alizedeh of the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission, "Shahab Darvishsi, a delinquent person was executed in the Azadi Square of Kermanshah on Tuesday evening. According to the Communications Department of the Justice Department of the Kermanshah Province, the above-mentioned was found guilty [ by the court of law] of forming a coterie of corruption rings, physical assaults , and the despicable act of sodomy."
A report by the website Iran Focus — an exile Iranian website that is not considered 100% reliable by many Iranian experts, Iranian scholars-in-exile, and human rights groups — claimed that a "gay man" was executed, but this reporter has been unable to independently confirm that information from my own Iranian sources. The Iran Focus version of the case has been flying around the Internet in the last 36 hours. At press time, Jessica Stern of the LGBT desk at Human Rights Watch (HRW) told me that HRW had not been able to confirm from its own sources that the executed man was homosexual.
Arsham Parsi (left), Secretary-General of the PGLO — who is now headquartered in Toronto after having been granted political asylum as a sexual refugee by Canada — told me he has received an e-mail from an underground PGLO gay activist in Kermanshah
whose nick-name is "Raha" (his real name cannot be used for security reasons) who said he had attended the execution, and who reported that people he spoke to in the crowd appeared to be pleased that the man was being punished because he was a known criminal.
"Raha" said it was his understanding, after talking to police at the public hanging, that Darvishi, the hanged man, had participated in an assault and rape on a heterosexual couple, who were also murdered. But no independent information with details of the hanged man’s alleged crimes has as yet become available from non-police or non-governmental sources. Nor was the alleged murder mentioned in the Iranian Justice Ministry’s release on the Darvishi execution.
A rough translation of the e-mail from "Raha" in Kermanshah says:
"I’d like to give you some info on the execution of this person, and I should tell you that I was present during the last execution. As the security officials mentioned, this man was accused of numerous crimes, including lavat [sodomy]. His story is as follows: he was the leader of a gang that included 3 others. With his gang he kidnapped a recently married couple (man and woman) from Kermanshah, and after sexually assaulting both of them, they killed them. His other crimes included, kidnapping, killing someone while in prison, and forming a corrupt gang. These are things that I myself have heard. At the same time, many people were happy with his sentence, and said that heshouldn’t have been executed so soon, but rather, should have been turned over to the hands of the people so they could kill him. As a homosexual and a resident of Kermanshah I am telling you these things honestly, and hope that it will be helpful for you."
Reporting on events inside Iran, in which the media and the press are tightly controlled and censored by the government, is always difficult — and this is even more true in any case involving homosexuality.
The Iranian government has been waging a vicious campaign against Iranian gays and lesbians, including entrapment via the Internet, raids on private gatherings in the homes of gay people, abductions of gay people, arrests, imprisonment, and the widespread use of torture and violence, both by the police and by the basiji (a paramilitary police force that enforces religious moral strictures, does the Tehran regime’s strong-arm work, and is under the control of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence.)
Iranian gays who are arrested are routinely tortured or blackmailed into giving the names of everyone they know who engages in homosexual sex, and those named are then in turn arrested.
The Interior Ministry maintains a computerized list of homosexuals, and those on the list are prevented from leaving the country because the government does not want them telling the story of the sometimes-lethal anti-gay campaign of oppression taking place inside Iran. Still, a steady stream of gay and lesbian refugees has managed to flee the country, and a number of them have related their tragic experiences at the hands of the homophobic authorities, including torture, in the pages of this newspaper.
In the past the Iranian government has used trumped-up criminal charges to execute gay people, and extracted "confessions" from gays by torture to crimes they never committed.
It is not clear why the Iranian government chose to make public the charge of "sodomy" against Darvishi, nor why the alleged murder of which police informed "Raha" was not mentioned among the charges laid to Darvishi in the Iranian Ministry of Justice’s announcement. Since the world-wide protests over the hanging of two gay teenagers in the city of Mashad on July 19 2005, the Iranian government has refrained from announcing executions for homosexual acts, which are a capital crime under Iranian law. On the first anniversary of the hanging of the two boys in Mashad this year, world-wide vigils and demonstrations were held in 29 cities around the world, from Mexico City and Moscow to London and Warsaw, including in eight American cities.
Underground gay activists in Iran, like the editors of the clandestine Persian-language gay ‘zine MAHA, have previously told this reporter that executions of homosexuals have taken place in secret since the hangings of the two lads in Mashad. Why, then, announce this one–and leave out the alleged murder?
In conversations this reporter had with PGLO activists, human rights group staffers, and Iranian scholars, speculation was rife as to the possible motive of the government in making public the "sodomy" charge against Darvishi. "It could have been to excite public approval of the execution and draw a large crowd, since homosexuality is detested by very religious Iranians," Parsi told me. Others speculated that the "sodomy" charge might have been tacked on to the other criminal charges in the hopes of dividing public opinion in the West, or that the government hoped to draw protests by the international LGBT community that could then be discredited inside Iran because of Darvishi’s alleged criminal record, to the detriment of the cause of oppressed gay Iranians.
The hanging of Darvishi was the 117th execution carried out by the Iranian government this year, according to a count established by Agence-France Presse based on both government statements and eyewitness accounts.
The Iranian government has become very clever and Machiavellian in its attempts to manipulate public opinion and discredit its critics — as in, for example, the Ramin Jahanbegloo affair (my friend Danny Postel unraveled the Jahanbegloo controversy in a sharp-eyed article for Open Democracy. Postel is the author of the forthcoming book, “‘Legitimation Crisis’ in Tehran Iran and the Future of Liberalism," to be published by Prickly Paradigm Press in December.) In the context of manipulations like the ones Postel describes, It seems to me some caution is indicated before swallowing the Tehran regime’s explanations for the Kermanshah hanging.
This reporter has been covering the Iranian government’s anti-gay campaign for nearly a year and a half in dozens of articles, and my conclusion is that extreme caution must be exercised before jumpting to conclusions about the public hanging of Darvishi — although that execution is certainly to be deplored by all of us who oppose capital punishment, and who find public executions staged as entertainments shocking and barbaric. But, in the absence of hard, independent information, it is certainly premature to conclude that — unlike the hanging of the two young gay teens in Mashad — Darvishi was hanged, as Iran Focus claimed, because he was a "gay man." This case is too murky at this point to reach any definitive conclusions — except to deplore Iran’s continuing widespread use of capital punishment. We will continue to try to bring you more independent information from Iran on this troubliing Darvishi case
"Funny Mister With No Beard": Impressions from Iran
by Genia Kostka
Three years ago my girlfriend Caroline and I travelled to Iran. It was a memorable trip: we saw beautiful mountains in the north and desert in the south. In particular we were fond of the Persian cities of Esfahan, Shiraz and Bam in southern Iran. This article, though, will not be a travel report; instead the focus will be on one aspect we had to deal with, namely how to travel as a female couple through Iran. My impressions are by no means representative, given that a one-month trip provides only short glimpses into a country that has thousands of years of history.
Equipped with chadors, which we had bought on a market in Turkey, we entered Iran. The Iranian law makes no distinction between female Muslims and non-Muslims, and foreign female travellers need to cover their hair like any other Iranian woman. Wearing a chador made us feel like we were dressing up for a carnival. Ten minutes after we first put them on, we were boiling under our black covers, and the idea that we had to wear this dress for the coming four weeks was a less than comforting thought.
Besides the distress of wearing the chador, we had realized that some Iranians were staring at us. Iranians on the streets could spot us as foreigners immediately, even when we were without travel bags and covered from top to toe. We concluded it had to be the shape of and expressions in our eyes. Iranians were surprised to see two twenty-one year old girls travelling alone; many asked us why we travelled without our husbands. When we told them that we did not have husbands, and the next question often was why we did not have a brother.
When we finally met other tourists in Teheran, we saw that we had “overdressed”: as a foreigner, to cover one’s hair with a scarf and wear long sleeved shirts was good enough. It was funny: during our first two weeks in northern Iran, where we had spent time in mountain villages and at the Caspian Sea, we had not met a single foreign traveller. This is not too surprising, though, given that the total number of tourists in Iran these days does not exceed 6,000 a year.
All the people we met were extremely friendly. It was hard to sit in a park or travel in a bus without getting involved in a conversation. Most Iranians speak some English, and students have especially good command of the language, as English is taught in universities. Everyone invited us to his or her house and we ended up visiting or staying in people’s houses for most of the time. Once we had one contact, every family had brothers or cousins in other cities and arranged for us to stay there.
Our visits with Iranian families often involved long conversations. Iranians love to talk about their famous poets and literature. It is fascinating that even uneducated Iranians know a lot about Iran’s cultural inheritance. Iranians were very interested in the West, and we were often asked whether we have a religion and what God means to us. They were surprised to find out that we were atheists. The picture on the right shows Caroline in the mountain village of Masulai, where Iranian women were curious to see how her hair looked under the scarf.
Sometimes we grew weary of answering the same questions over and over again. A popular question—- from both men and women—- was whether we would ever be with someone without being married. We answered that if we knew that he was the right one, we would. Well, it was impossible to tell the truth. What would they think of us if we told them not only that we had premarital sex, but also that we were a lesbian couple? In Iran, homosexuality is punishable by death. According to Amnesty International more than 100 fatal stonings over the last 20 years occurred on the grounds of homosexuality. It is difficult to be certain about the exact numbers of executions, as the Islamic Republic does not reveal any statistical report on the capital sentences handed down or carried out, and the regime sometimes resorts to false allegations of homosexuality against political opponents, in a bid to discredit them. Moreover, the relatives of those killed because they were homosexuals often try to cover the true reason because of the strong social stigma associated with homosexuality. Today, some in the West believe that homosexuals have not been actively persecuted during the last few years. My impression is that the Islamic disapproval of homosexuality is not so much about the sexual act itself– after all, homoerotic sexuality was frequently praised in Persian literature-– rather it is the fear that the modern and open form of homosexuality as a life style will undermine the existing societal structure of family units.
One evening we sat for dinner with a teacher and his wife and two children. It had been a lovely evening with a nice conversation until late at night. After the kids and wife went to bed, the teacher kept talking to us. Finally before we departed, he begged us to kiss him. He said he could not ask Iranian women to do it, so we would do him a great favour. We were shocked. Not long ago we were sitting with his wife and children, and he was the good family father. We declined, and quickly left him. Similar situations occurred other times, whether it was in a crowded bus or in a market. Given that Iranian men are not allowed to touch female Muslims other than family members, foreign tourists are obvious targets (squeezing the posterior seemed to be their favourite!).
Travelling through Iran was different from our past travels to China, India and Nepal. We were constantly made aware of our gender and we felt insecure as two women. One reason why we were insecure was that we were not sure how to behave in certain situations. What could we do in this society, and what couldn’t we do? Unspoken rules or what we interpreted as expected behaviour from us started to bother us. We had to pay attention not to touch men, as body contact was not appropriate; in buses we were allocated certain seats, usually in the front or the back. People were extremely friendly and helpful, but we could not lose an underlying sense of unease. It is hard to phrase in words the source of that discomfort. It was not that “they” told us to behave in a certain way, but it is more that we ourselves started to limit our actions and behaved as we thought we should. We avoided looking into men’s eyes, because we heard that direct eye contact is regarded as flirting, especially with men in their mid-twenties.
When we were harassed seriously for the third time in a market in Tehran, we got frustrated and decided that one of us should dress as a man. We had heard from other female foreign travellers that they had had an easier time because they had a man in their travel group. Given my short hair, it was clear that I was to dress up. On the market we bought a baseball cap, trousers and a man’s shirt. We even bought a pack of cigarettes, to be put in the shirt pocket. I changed clothes, exchanged my scarf with the baseball cap (a big relief!). Caroline instructed me how to walk like a man and to keep my voice lower. We decided that my name was Tom, and that I was Caroline’s husband. We walked out on the street and, indeed, after that we did not get harassed even once.
The impact was unbelievable. Suddenly men talked to me, and I was in charge of everything (paying bills, buying tickets). From time to time people did say that I looked very young, but they absolutely believed the story that I was Caroline’s husband. Once, in secret, an Iranian woman told Caroline that she thought that I was a “funny mister.” According to her opinion, “Tom” was a funny mister because he had no beard. After that we decided that it was better to say that I was her brother taking care of her. That worked even better. Upon guessing my age, people thought that I was a fourteen-year-old boy! I thought: fine, better to be a fourteen-year-old boy than a woman wearing a scarf in the boiling sun. I started to enjoy playing my role as brother a lot and, in fact, I pitied Caroline, who was pushed into a more passive role, as people addressed me with questions.
I never felt so aware about what gender does to you. I adopted masculine habits, and when staying with a family, I joined the men, and Caroline joined the women. It worked well, and we felt more comfortable. The only trouble for me was to use public toilets. Sometimes it was unavoidable, and I used them. It was not the most pleasant event, but I felt it was worth it if it meant I didn’t need to wear a scarf.
Once a student spotted that I used to wear earrings. Confronting me on that, we said that in the Western world many men wear earrings, and after a while I think he believed us. The picture on the right shows Caroline and me, under the guise of her brother Tom, with Iranian young people we met and stayed with.
Once back at home, parents and friends were very interested in our travel stories. For them it was difficult to imagine how life in Iran is like, but showing photos helped. Sharing stories of our new Iranian friends was even more helpful. So we told them about Maria, Farshad, Hamid and Mina, and what they thought about the West, their beliefs and ambitions, their opinion about the Iranian government, and about the importance of religion. It was interesting that Caroline could explain the view of women much better, whereas I knew little about the women’s point of view, because I had mainly talked to Farshad and Hamid.
People also reacted well to stories of our sex-swapping adventure. They enjoyed the funny anecdotes we told about it, and the general consensus was that it was fine to dress up during this one-month trip in order to be treated well and travel more easily in Iran. What is sad though is that the freedom to enjoy our trip was the difference between wearing a scarf and not wearing one, and that such a simple thing could come to mean so much.
Genia Kostka is a graduate of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC. She took Azar Nafisi’s Politics and Culture course at SAIS in the spring of 2003