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
UTube video on persecution of gay in Iran:(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAzMuHyg8Eg)
Gay Islam discussion groups:
February 2, 2008
Iranian homosexuals living on the edge
by Dudi Cohen
Islamic Republic proves a dangerous place to be gay, as refugee tells of life in fear in a place that ‘kills people for falling in love’; If we fight God’s will why did he created us like this, he asks Dudi Cohen Iran is no place to develop any tendencies the regime might deem abnormal, like being gay: "I was born and raised in Iran, a country that kills people for falling in love," a young gay Iranian wrote on the IRQO (Iranian Queer Organization) website.
"My government kills homosexuals by asserting we are an enemy of GOD. My president denies us even our existence as human beings when he claimed there are no homosexuals in Iran during his speech at Colombia University. If he can say there are no homosexuals in Iran, it is because we cannot show ourselves. We stay hidden because if we are visible they will lash us; they will hang us; they will kill us. They tell us that we are fighting with God by falling in love with the same sex," the letter continued. "I want to understand that if this is the case, then why has God created us like this?"
‘What’s wrong with me?’
The man, who chose the alias Sepehr, continued to unveil his story in a heartfelt letter: "When I began high school, the abuse started. This left emotional scars. Then I met someone from school who changed my life, but this came at a cost… My period of dejection began from there. I was afraid of everyone and everything and tried to straighten my life. "I eventually went to see a doctor and realized that this is my nature and not a virus of some sort," he wrote; "but the effects of my sexual identity had me trapped again… Am I sick? Do I have a disease? Has My family abandoned me, and just because I love people of the same sex as me?"
Sepehr eventually left Iran and many like him are forced to do so as well, often seeking political asylum in the West. Those denied have no choice by to return to Iran, where more often than none, they face the death penalty. "I left Iran by bus to Pakistan because I was being threatened. If arrested, I risk being killed in a public execution with no trial… I finally ended up in Malaysia in May 2007 where I applied for asylum," he wrote.
Ironically, Sepehr is looking for his salvation from the very God in whose name he was being persecuted: "Now I am praying. I am crying. I am begging my God to help me. "I had plans. I wanted to write books. I wanted to share my experiences. I wanted to help gay men to better understand who they are. I wanted to speak with people to help them to understand that I deserve to live too. But this is my life now. I can’t understand is what I have done so wrong that I deserve to be beaten with a gun… I cannot continue this life. I am still young. I want to be alive but I don’t know how."
5th March 2008
Iranian and Chilean LGBT activists honoured
by Tony Grew
A trans activist and an Iranian queer organisation will be honoured by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) at a special ceremony next month. Andres Ignacio Rivera Duarte of Chile’s Organización de Transexuales por la Dignidad de la Diversidad and the Canada-based Iranian Queer Organisation (IRQO) will be awarded the 2008 Felipa de Souza Award. Each award winner will receive a $5,000 (£2,516) stipend. The awards will be presented at a ceremony in New York on April 28th, 2008.
IGLHRC’s Felipa Award "recognises the courage and effectiveness of groups or leaders dedicated to improving the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) and other individuals stigmatised and abused because of their sexuality or HIV status." Previous winners include the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, whose leader Brian Williamson was murdered in 2004 and the Blue Diamond Society (BDS) of Nepal.
"We are so honoured this year to be able present this award to two extraordinarily powerful voices for LGBTI human rights," said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director. IRQO provides absolutely vital assistance for lesbian and gay Iranians fleeing the threat of death in their home country, literally helping to save and rebuild countless lives. Andres Rivera has been an enormously courageous pioneer for the rights of trans people in Chile. It is truly our pleasure to honour all that these remarkable activists have done to promote human rights and dignity for LGBTI people."
In 2005 Andres Rivera, a trans man, founded Organizacion de Transexuales por la Dignidad de la Diversidad, the only NGO in Chile dedicated to fighting for trans people’s rights, which he currently heads. He has worked with government and the local health system to facilitate the evaluation, treatment and surgery of trans people, and organised the first Rancagua debate on the Civil Union Pact. Himself the victim of employment discrimination, he fought a landmark lawsuit, bringing issues of gender identity into the public view, finally winning the right for trans people to legally change their name and sex in 2007.
"I receive this award with humility and honour," said Andres Rivera. "On behalf of murdered trans people, of those who fight to build a more egalitarian and fair world, and of those trans people who day-by-day live with the pain of not being considered human beings."
IRQO serves as the representative of thousands of Iranian queers, giving visibility to a population the Iranian government is aggressively trying to silence. Based in Toronto, Canada, with members working out of Europe and Iran, IRQO has played a key role in documenting LGBT rights violations in Iran and in mobilizing public opinion to pressure Iranian authorities to end the inhumane treatment of sexual minorities. The organisation also helps gay and lesbian refugees around the world to fight deportation orders that would return them to Iran, where they could face torture or the death penalty-and helps them obtain asylum in friendly countries. IRQO strives to increase the self-esteem of Iranian queers by offering phone counseling inside Iran and raising awareness of homosexuality in the Persian-speaking media.
Arsham Parsi, IRQO’s executive director, said: "We are thrilled that the international community has come to acknowledge the LGBT rights struggle in Iran." We can no longer claim that no one cares about our plight. This is not an award just for IRQO. We accept this award on behalf of all Iranian queers who have been long fighting for their basic human rights. The stipend will allow IRQO to continue its campaign for human rights and to challenge homophobia in Iran."
Nominations for the Felipa Award are solicited each year from activists around the world. Nominees go through a rigorous review by the staff, board and the International Advisory Committee of IGLHRC. The award embodies the spirit of Felipa de Souza, who endured persecution and brutality after proudly declaring her intimacy with a woman during a 16th Century inquisition trial in Brazil.
6th March 2008
Call for action against bogus AIDS cures
by PinkNews.co.uk staff writer
A leading human rights group has called on the United Nations to act against the proliferation of unproven treatments for AIDS. An article published in the peer-reviewed journal Globalisation and Health, Human Rights Watch cited examples of the promotion of these remedies in countries as diverse as Zambia, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, India, and Zimbabwe.
Human Rights Watch says the UN and its member states are failing to address serious threats to life and health posed by the promotion of unproven AIDS ‘cures’ and by counterfeit antiretroviral drugs. "Fake cures have been promoted since AIDS was first identified," said Joseph Amon, HIV/AIDS programme director at Human Rights Watch and author of the article. "In the era of expanded antiretroviral treatment programmes, the failure of governments to monitor these false claims and ensure accurate information about life-saving antiretroviral drugs undermines global efforts to fight AIDS."
In Gambia in February 2007 President Yahya Jammeh claimed to have developed a herbal cure for AIDS that was effective in three days if people taking the treatment discontinued taking antiretroviral drugs and refrained from alcohol, caffeine, and sex. Following the announcement, Gambian journalists who criticised the so-called cure were fired, and the UN resident coordinator in Gambia, Fadzai Gwaradzimba, was permanently expelled for asking for scientific proof of the treatment’s effectiveness. Last week the Gambian government announced with much fanfare that Jammeh had been awarded an honorary degree in Herbal and Homeopathic medicine by the Brussels-based Jean Monnet European University. In accepting the degree, Jammeh announced that he had discovered cures for obesity and impotence, adding to his previously declared ‘cures’ for infertility, diabetes, and asthma.
Also in 2007, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announced the discovery of IMOD (an abbreviation for immuno-modulator drug), a herbal AIDS treatment made from seven local Iranian herbs. The government has promoted the drug as a "therapeutic vaccine" and as the "first choice" for treatment in resource-constrained developing countries. The President’s Office for Technology Cooperation has also promoted the remedy and sought partners for joint marketing, clinical trials, and manufacturing.
According to news reports in November 2007, the Iranian Minister of Health and Medical Education stated that all patients with
advanced HIV disease – more than 1,500 overall – would be treated with IMOD.
"Countries are gambling with the lives of people living with HIV by promoting unproven AIDS remedies,” said Mr Amon. "The UN should condemn this practice and work with governments and civil society groups to ensure that effective AIDS treatment and information about it are provided."
March 14, 2008
Britain Halts Deportation Move Against Gay Iranian, 19-Year-Old Fears Execution at Home
by Mary Jordan, Washington Post Foreign Service
London, March 13 – Britain halted deportation proceedings Thursday against a gay Iranian teenager who has said he would probably be hanged because of his sexual orientation if he is returned to Iran. Mehdi Kazemi, 19, moved to Britain in 2005 to study and has said he then learned that his boyfriend in Iran had been hanged after being convicted of sodomy. Homosexuality is a severe crime under Iranian law, and Kazemi’s case has drawn concern from gay rights groups around the world. An initial appeal for asylum was turned down here. But Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Britain’s top law enforcement figure, said Thursday that "in light of new circumstances" Kazemi’s appeal would be reconsidered, handing him a temporary reprieve that his supporters hope will ultimately lead to his being granted the right to stay in Britain. When the government first rejected his appeal, Kazemi fled to the Netherlands, where lawmakers took up his cause. He remains there but is expected to return to Britain within days. A Dutch court this week refused to grant Kazemi asylum on the grounds that he had initiated proceedings in Britain and needed to return there to continue them.
In recent years, the British government has been under enormous public pressure to reduce the number of refugees and asylum seekers it admits. Critics say too many foreigners abuse the system. Kazemi has said he did not arrive in Britain with the intention of staying, but then found out that Iranian officials would be looking for him if he returned. Gay rights leaders in Britain said that Kazemi’s partner was tortured into naming Kazemi before he was killed and that Kazemi has been suicidal over the whole ordeal. An uncle who lives in Britain was also quoted in a British newspaper as saying that if authorities didn’t kill Kazemi, his father in Iran would. Eighty members of Britain’s upper house of Parliament signed a letter sent to Smith urging the government to "show compassion and allow Mr. Kazemi to have a safe haven in the United Kingdom."
"There is no doubt that he will be persecuted and possibly face state-sanctioned murder if he is forced to return," said Roger Roberts, a member of the House of Lords from the Liberal Democratic Party, who initiated the petition. "It’s cruel to even suggest sending him back," said David Allison, a spokesman for Outrage!, a gay rights group in Britain. "The history of gays in Iran has been horrific."
Human rights advocates have long deplored the treatment, including executions, of gay men in Iran. Last year while in New York City, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was asked about executions of homosexuals in his country, and he replied: "We don’t have homosexuals like in your country. I don’t know who told you that."
March 28, 2008
Iran: Private Homes Raided for ‘Immorality’–Authorities Escalate Arbitrary Arrests, Harassment
by Scott Long
The arrest of more than 30 men attending a party in a private home in the city of Esfahan signals renewed efforts by Iranian authorities to enforce “morality” codes, and highlights the fragility of basic rights in a country where police powers routinely undermine privacy, Human Rights Watch said today. It urged Iranian authorities to release the men reportedly arrested in late February, and to drop charges against people accused of consensual homosexual conduct, drinking alcohol, and other related “morals” offenses.
“When police routinely break down doors to enforce a brand of morality, it means a line has been crossed to invade people’s privacy at any time,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Iran’s repressive system of controlling people’s dress, behavior, and personal lives violates fundamental rights.” Sources inside Iran report to Human Rights Watch that on February 28-29, police in Esfahan raided a private home and arrested 30 or more men attending a party. They have been jailed for almost four weeks without access to lawyers and without charge. Police reportedly referred them to a forensic medical examiner to look for “evidence” that they have engaged in homosexual conduct.
In May 2007, during a nationwide crackdown to enforce dress codes and conduct, police raided another private party in an apartment building in Esfahan. They arrested 87 persons, including four women and at least eight people whom they accused of wearing the clothing of the opposite sex. Victims told Human Rights Watch that police stripped many of them to the waist in the street, and beat them until their backs or faces were bloody. Several reportedly had bones broken. Of those arrested, 24 men were tried for “facilitating immorality and sexual misconduct,” as well as possessing and drinking alcohol. In June 2007, an Esfahan court found all of them guilty of various combinations of these charges. Most were sentenced to up to 80 lashes and to fines of 10 million to 50 million riyals (US$1,000-5,000). The verdicts are under appeal and have not yet been enforced.
Sources in Iran have told Human Rights Watch that since the May 2007 arrests, police have intensified surveillance, harassment, and abuse against people connected to the 87 arrested men, or otherwise suspected of homosexual conduct. Several described being detained by police and interrogated to reveal contacts. According to one man’s account, police “poured water over me. … They threatened me, they said ‘cooperate with us.’ … They are after everyone, they said, ‘You are completing your gang, you are creating new members, where do you gather?’” They told me, ‘Go out and meet people.’ In essence, I should spy for them.” Human Rights Watch learned that in December 2007 at another private gathering in Esfahan, police arrested 16 more people, subjecting them to forensic examinations. Authorities released them after four days in detention.
Other reports indicate that in March 2008, Esfahan police entrapped several men over the internet by answering personal advertisements, and interrogated them to reveal the names of friends and contacts. Police found erotic pictures of men on another man’s mobile phone after arresting him, and a court reportedly sentenced him to three years of imprisonment. Iranian law provides punishments up to death for penetrative same-sex sexual activity between men on the first conviction, and punishes non-penetrative activity with up to 100 lashes. Homosexual conduct between women is punishable with death on the fourth conviction. Iran’s Penal Code requires four reiterated confessions, or the testimony of four “righteous men” as eyewitnesses, to prove lavat, or sodomy. However, judges are permitted to accept circumstantial evidence or inference. At the May 2007 raid in Esfahan, police reportedly brought four civilian witnesses to prove that “immorality” was taking place.
The last documented death sentences for consensual homosexual conduct in Iran were handed down in March 2005. It is not known whether they were carried out. In extensive interviews with men and women inside and outside Iran, Human Rights Watch has documented widespread patterns of arbitrary arrest and torture based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Western sources have suggested that charges of consensual homosexual conduct are converted to charges of rape in the Iranian judicial system, but Human Rights Watch has found no evidence of this.
“In Iran, for some people, the spy at the bedroom window or the knock at the door can mean the threat of a death sentence,” said Stork. “Privacy, freedom from arbitrary arrest, and freedom from torture are human rights. Police and judges must respect them.”
For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on Iran, please visit:
For more information, please contact:
In New York, Scott Long: +1-646-641-5655 (mobile)
30 March, 2008
More Arrests In Iran
by Christian Taylor,
A ‘morals raid’ on a private home in the Iranian city of Esfahan has resulted in the arrest of thirty men. According to New York based watchdog Human Rights Watch, the arrest happened late in February and they’ve been held for almost a month without formal charges and without access to lawyers. They’re being accused of consensual homosexual conduct, drinking alcohol, and other morals charges and Police have reportedly sent them for forensic examinations in an attempt to find evidence of homosexual conduct. In May last year, during a nationwide crackdown to enforce dress codes and conduct, police raided another private party in an apartment building in Esfahan. They arrested 87 people, including four women and at least eight people whom they accused of wearing the clothing of the opposite sex. Victims told Human Rights Watch that they were stripped to the waist and severely assaulted in the streets. Of those arrested, 24 men were tried for “facilitating immorality and sexual misconduct”. They were all found guilty in June of last year and most were sentenced to up to 80 lashes and to fines of 10 million to 50 million riyals ($1,093 – $5,465 AUD). The verdicts are under appeal and have not yet been enforced.
Since these arrests, police have intensified surveillance, harassment, and abuse against people connected to the 87 arrested men, or otherwise suspected of homosexual conduct. Many have told Human Rights Watch that they’ve been interrogated to reveal contacts and some have been asked to spy. In December 2007, at another private gathering in Esfahan, police arrested 16 more people, subjecting them to forensic examinations. These people were fortunate enough to be released after only four days. In March this year, Esfahan police entrapped several men over the internet by answering personal advertisements, and interrogated them to reveal the names of friends and contacts. One man who was arrested had erotic pictures of men on his phone and he was therefore sentenced to three years in prison.
Under Iranian law, penetrative same-sex sexual activity between men can mean death on the first conviction. Non-penetrative sex can get them up to 100 lashes. Lesbians activity is punishable with death on the fourth conviction. The last documented death sentences for consensual homosexual conduct in Iran were handed down in March 2005, but it is not yet known whether they were carried out. In extensive interviews with men and women inside and outside Iran, Human Rights Watch has documented widespread patterns of arbitrary arrest and torture based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“In Iran, for some people, the spy at the bedroom window or the knock at the door can mean the threat of a death sentence,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Privacy, freedom from arbitrary arrest, and freedom from torture are human rights. Police and judges must respect them.”
March 31, 2008
The issue is torture
by Scott Long
Anyone who has spent, as I have, long hours over two years listening to Iranian tales of torture would know just how the controversy over Mehdi Kazemi’s asylum claim misses the point. George Galloway says gays are not executed in Iran, just rapists. Peter Tatchell says Galloway spouts "Iranian propaganda". Neither gets at the gist of Mehdi’s case, or of Britain’s broken obligations with regard to torture under international law.
Let’s start with the facts.
Homosexual conduct in Iran can get you the death penalty. Penetrative sex acts between men can bring death on the first conviction; non-penetrative activity, up to 100 lashes. Women earn floggings on the first three convictions; four strikes and you die. Iran’s penal code requires four reiterated confessions, or the eyewitness testimony of four "righteous men", to prove lavat, or sodomy. Yet judges are allowed to guess and infer. Moreover, police helpfully provide the witnesses: raiding a party in Isfahan in May 2007, they brought along four men, presumably righteous, to watch. Torturing and killing gays is legal in Iran: you don’t need to view the bodies to prove it. International law bars Britain from returning people to the risk of torture. Britain must give gay Iranians asylum. Yet despite this clarity, confusion hangs over the situation in Iran. Some activists, trying sincerely to help Mehdi, are helping the British government off the hook.
Peter Tatchell is wrong to assert, without real evidence, that gay men are routinely hanged in public; that mass "pogroms" have led to mass executions in recent years; or that fake rape charges are regularly tacked on to charges of consensual homosexual acts. Nor should anyone’s asylum case hinge on such claims. The last documented death sentences for consensual homosexual conduct in Iran were handed down in March 2005. It is not known whether they were carried out. Ramping up the allegations means accepting the government’s exaggerated standards of proof. And it can backfire – against people in Iran. Europe and the US have seen a public campaign in recent years to identify executions – often random ones – in Iran as killings of gay men. Pictures of the horrific public hanging in Mashhad in 2005 of Ayaz Marhoni and Mahmoud Asgari – convicted, in all likelihood, of the rape of a 13-year-old boy while both were minors – spread virally round the world like a postmodern Pieta.
Monstrous, yes: but there is no conclusive evidence that they were gay or that consensual homosexual acts had anything to do with their judicial killing. In the months after that, campaigners in the US and Europe repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that hangings for rape in Iran were actually a "pogrom" against gay men. One US paper claimed four men were hanged for "being gay". They turned out to have been convicted of the rape of a woman and three girls – 10, 7, and 8 years old. Such mistakes can have dire consequences. In November 2007 in Kermanshah, Makwan Mouloudzadeh, 20, faced the death penalty on false charges of raping several boys seven years before. His accusers retracted their claims. No evidence suggested he had committed any crime under Iranian law. However, European activists wildly seized on him as another "gay" victim. They organised a mass petition to Ahmadinejad for mercy for "the young Iranian gay". Their pleas sent an inadvertent message: Makwan was innocent of one capital crime, but Europe believed him guilty of another. On December 5, Makwan Mouloudzadeh, probably neither gay nor a rapist, went to the gallows.
Why so much confusion? Why the need to find "gay" victims, even when it endangers a man already on death row? Emotion makes discussion difficult. People asking what the evidence really is are likely to be called "apologists for Iran". Britain’s slammed asylum door indeed breeds desperation. It’s crucial to remember, though, that the reason asylum authorities seek pretexts to reject gay Muslims isn’t "Iranian propaganda": it’s home-grown propaganda stoking fears of Muslim immigration. Activists must combat racism in Britain, not just repression in Iran. The most cogent answer, though, shows the failure at the heart of Britain’s policies on asylum – and torture. Home Office minister Lord West said of Mehdi: "We are not aware of any individual who has been executed in Iran in recent years solely on the grounds of homosexuality. And we don’t consider there was systematic persecution of gay men in Iran."
In other words: no execution, no persecution. If you aren’t dead, you’re OK. This is a disastrous evasion of the UK’s responsibilities under international law. Human Rights Watch has shown how Britain tries to redefine its obligations on torture, so it can send people back to states where they face grave risk. Usually it happens in the context of counterterrorism. But with gay Iranians, too, the government aims to change the rules, denying that legal torture is "persecution". The UK should recognise – as the Netherlands has done – that with a law prescribing death or torture for gay Iranians, they need not demonstrate the details of past persecution. Lift the burden of proof from Mehdi and his gay compatriots. End the threat of deportation.
Activists, though, must avoid playing the government’s torturous game. Don’t let the Home Office define torture down till a corpse on a gallows is the only proof that counts. Hold Britain to its real obligations. Otherwise, it will remain complicit in persecution.
Director, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program
Human Rights Watch
Tel +1 212.216.1297
Iranian Queer Organization (www.irqo.net)
April 29, 2008
Arsham Parsi, founder of IROQ, receives Felipa Human Rights Award’s ceremony in New York from IGLHRC
Persian Version: http://www.irqo.net/IRQO/English/pages/137.htm#persian
Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Evening,
My name is Hossein Alizadeh and I am the communication coordinator at IGLHRC. As a IGLHRC staff member who has worked closely with Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO) over the past two years, and as an Iranian who extremely proud of IRQO’s activities and outreach, it is my honor and pleasure tonight to present the 2008 Felipa de Souza Award to Arsham Parsi, the founder and director of IRQO, who is here with us to represent his organization.
The Iranian Queer Organization is an all volunteer, grassroots Organization that started back in 2001 as a listserv by a group of young Iranian gay and lesbian inside Iran. Despite the risk of wiretapping and infiltration by the Iranian morality police, these brave Iranian queers decided to get together and form the virtual support group to empower members of the community who face similar legal, political, and social challenges. Over the past seven years, despite limited financial resources and constant threats from the Iranian authorities, IRQO has become the voice of thousands of Iranian LGBTIs both inside Iran and overseas.
Today, IRQO offers phone counselling to it members inside Iran, publishes regular articles on homosexuality in Iran, works with other human rights groups and members of the media to document the human rights violation of LGBTIs, and support Iranian refugee and asylum seekers who are forced to leave their country. For most people working with IRQO, the organization is almost synonymous with Arsham Parsi, the man whose dream of connecting and organizing Iranian queers has been the driving force behind IRQO. Arsham dedicates his entire life to the cause, selflessly working around the clock, and without pay, to ensure that the Iranian queers are not forgotten or ignored. Last September, in a controversial talk at Colombia University, the Iranian President Dr. Mahmood Ahmadinejad categorically denied the existence of queers in Iran. "In Iran, we don’t have homosexual like in your country" he said.
By being the face of the Iranian queer movement, and by telling the stories of LGBTQI Iranians, Arsham repeatedly proves the Iranian president wrong. Arsham shows the international community, that in spite of many problems, the Iranian queer movement is very much alive and demands equality, dignity and justice. Arsham, congratulation to you and the Iranian Queer Organization for this very well deserved award.
Arsham Parsi responds:
Yes, I do exist. Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I’m happy to be here tonight in New York to represent the IRanian Queer Organization along with my colleague Ms. Roshan Borhan. First of all, we would like to sincerely thank IGLHRC for the 2008 Felipa Award. When Paula Ettelbrick informed me about the Award, I was working on Mehdi Kazemi’s case. Mehdi Kazemi is an Iranian gay man, who had escaped from the United Kingdom after being denied asylum there. He was detained in the Netherlands, and feared being deported back to Iran, where he could face the death penalty for being gay.
Like Mehdi and his friends, I was in low spirits. At such a difficult time, the news of the Award gave warm encouragement to everyone in the organization, and to all Iranian LGBTs. Seven years ago, the IRanian Queer Organization was only a web-based group in Iran with a handful of members. We survived numerous difficulties and now we are a well-known organization with representatives who speak on panels and at conferences. Probably one of the organization’s most crucial achievements was bringing the issue of sexual minorities in Iran out of invisibility and into kitchen-table conversations and seminars, under the banner that queer rights are human rights. Today it’s rare to find an article in Persian that fails to mentions queer rights along with women and children’s rights, and the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.
Our organization is registered in Canada. Due to our scare resources we decided not to have an office and instead to work as volunteers so that we could allocate our entire budget to asylum seekers, providing for their lodging, food, clothes, and health care. So far organizations such as IGLHRC, Eagle Canada, Rainbow Railroad, Al-Fatiha, and others have helped queer Iranian asylum seekers with their donations.This is a great platform to express our gratitude. The Board of IRQO has made a decision to spend the $5000 Felipa Award on publications to promote cultural change and fight homophobia. We have identified a great need for books and brochures in Persian. We’re starting a new project to publish a collection of poems written by Iranian queers in Persian and English.
Given the overwhelming number of requests from Iranian activists, students, and everyday people who ask for literature on homosexuality in Persian, we’re planning to publish a series of brochures and booklets on sexuality and sexual orientation. This is another project that needs the help and support of publishers as well as of human rights activists like yourselves. To close, I just wanted to thank IGLHRC again for the Felipa Award. I hope there will be a day when IRQO will reach such a level of success that no Iranian queer will be discriminated against, tortured, executed, or mocked, and when their rights will be respected by all. That day will come; we just need to keep on working toward it.
May 7, 2008.
Arsham Parsi Interview on YouTube
Arsham Parsi, founder of the Iranian Queer Organization, has been called the first gay rights activist in Iranian history. Today, he tell his story.
March 14, 2008
Britain Halts Deportation Move Against Gay Iranian, 19-Year-Old Fears Execution at Home
by Mary Jordan, Washington Post Foreign Service
London, March 13 – Britain halted deportation proceedings Thursday against a gay Iranian teenager who has said he would probably be hanged because of his sexual orientation if he is returned to Iran. Mehdi Kazemi, 19, moved to Britain in 2005 to study and has said he then learned that his boyfriend in Iran had been hanged after being convicted of sodomy. Homosexuality is a severe crime under Iranian law, and Kazemi’s case has drawn concern from gay rights groups around the world. An initial appeal for asylum was turned down here. But Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Britain’s top law enforcement figure, said Thursday that "in light of new circumstances" Kazemi’s appeal would be reconsidered, handing him a temporary reprieve that his supporters hope will ultimately lead to his being granted the right to stay in Britain.
When the government first rejected his appeal, Kazemi fled to the Netherlands, where lawmakers took up his cause. He remains there but is expected to return to Britain within days. A Dutch court this week refused to grant Kazemi asylum on the grounds that he had initiated proceedings in Britain and needed to return there to continue them. In recent years, the British government has been under enormous public pressure to reduce the number of refugees and asylum seekers it admits. Critics say too many foreigners abuse the system. Kazemi has said he did not arrive in Britain with the intention of staying, but then found out that Iranian officials would be looking for him if he returned.
Gay rights leaders in Britain said that Kazemi’s partner was tortured into naming Kazemi before he was killed and that Kazemi has been suicidal over the whole ordeal. An uncle who lives in Britain was also quoted in a British newspaper as saying that if authorities didn’t kill Kazemi, his father in Iran would. Eighty members of Britain’s upper house of Parliament signed a letter sent to Smith urging the government to "show compassion and allow Mr. Kazemi to have a safe haven in the United Kingdom."
"There is no doubt that he will be persecuted and possibly face state-sanctioned murder if he is forced to return," said Roger Roberts, a member of the House of Lords from the Liberal Democratic Party, who initiated the petition.
"It’s cruel to even suggest sending him back," said David Allison, a spokesman for Outrage!, a gay rights group in Britain. "The history of gays in Iran has been horrific."
Human rights advocates have long deplored the treatment, including executions, of gay men in Iran. Last year while in New York City, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was asked about executions of homosexuals in his country, and he replied: "We don’t have homosexuals like in your country. I don’t know who told you that.
May 19, 2008
Gay protest in Turkey makes the news in Iran
by Tony Grew
The state broadcaster of the Islamic Republic of Iran has reported on an International Day Against Homophobia event in Turkey. As reported by PinkNews.co.uk last week, Michael Cashman MEP joined authors, journalists and human rights defenders on a march against homophobia and transphobia in Ankara on Saturday. Mr Cashman is one of only two out gay MEPs in the 785-member European Parliament.
The march started at the Human Rights Monument in the Turkish capital and ended at the National Assembly. It was the first International Day Against Homophobia march in Ankara. "Until recent years, due to cultural and social norms of the Turkish society which opposes sexual deviation, homosexuals used to keep a low profile in the country," said a report on official website of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). However, in the past two years, members of this group are trying to organise and establish themselves through gatherings and publications. Meanwhile, some Turkish media have helped the social acceptance of homosexuals by trying to portray the sexual deviation as a normal behaviour."
Iran is one of a handful of countries that executes people, including minors, for consenting homosexual acts. Human rights groups claim that as many as 4,000 gay men and lesbians have been executed as a result of their sexual orientation since the Islamic revolution in 1979. Gay groups in Turkey, a secular Islamic state, have faced court action in recent years as the country, which is a candidate for European Union membership, grapples with LGBT rights. Last month police officers in Turkey raided the offices of a leading LGBT organisation on the pretence that "frequent visits by transgender people" were grounds to issue a search warrant.
Lawyers for the Lambda Istanbul Cultural Centre later discovered that an accusation had been lodged against the association for "participating in illegal prostitution activities, procuring transgender sex workers and sharing their earnings." More than a dozen plainclothes officers spent two hours at the centre. Government officials have made similar legal moves to shut down lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organisations in Turkey but failed. Kaos GL faced a demand for closure from Ankara’s deputy governor, Selahattin Ekmenoglu, in 2005. The closure petition was dismissed by prosecutors.
Turkey is a candidate country for EU membership, but concerns about human rights are one factor frustrating negotiations. The chairman of Netherlands gay rights group COC, Frank van Dalen, has called on the Dutch government to not support their application for EU membership until "basic human rights are fully respected by Turkey." The UK is a vocal supporter of Turkish membership.
May 21, 2008
Gay Iranian teen wins right to asylum in Britain
London (AP) — Britain said Tuesday that it is granting asylum to a gay Iranian teenager who fears that he could face execution if forced to return to his homeland. Britain’s Border Agency said it would allow asylum for Mehdi Kazemi, who traveled in 2005 to London to study English and while there learned that his lover in Iran had been charged with sodomy and hanged. Kazemi, 19, then sought asylum in Britain, but it was rejected, then in the Netherlands. The Netherlands’ highest court rejected his claim in March, ruling that Britain was responsible for the case under European Union law because it was there that Kazemi first applied for asylum.
Britain’s Home Secretary Jacqui Smith decided after that to reconsider the case, and there were appeals in the House of Lords that he be allowed to remain due to fears his life could be at risk in Iran. Some human rights groups claim gay people are executed in Iran because of their sexuality. The case has drawn attention in both countries to the plight of homosexuals in Iran, and the differences in the way various EU countries deal with asylum-seekers.
July 22, 2008
Concern for AIDS experts detained in Iran
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
Two brothers who are pioneers in the prevention of HIV transmission in Iran have been held by the authorities without charge for nearly a month. Arash and Kamyar Alaei, both doctors, should be released immediately, said New York-based Human Rights Watch. The Iranian authorities have not made any public statements about where they are being held, or why. It is unknown if they will face any charges.
"For more than 20 years, the Alaei brothers have been active in addressing problems relating to drug use, with a focus on the spread of HIV/AIDS, and have played a key role in putting these issues on the national health care agenda," HRW said in a statement. "They have worked closely with government and religious leaders to ensure support for education campaigns on HIV transmission, including those targeting youth, and for HIV and harm reduction programs in prisons. Neither of the men is known to have any involvement in political activities. Iran is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and as such has strict legal obligations not to carry out arbitrary arrests or detention and to afford due process rights including the prompt provision of reasons for an arrest and any charges which will be brought, access to counsel, and the right to be brought before a judicial officer to determine the legality of the detention to anyone detained."
The Alaei brothers were a driving force behind Iran’s first AIDS awareness handbook in 2006, negotiating the religious and cultural sensitivities around sex and drugs to produce materials that help save lives.
For more information about the brochure and AIDS prevention in Iran click here.
August 29, 2008
Iranian film explores transsexual world
Venice, Italy (AP) – Organizers of the Venice Film Festival waited to announce the Iranian film "Khastegi," or "Tedium," by first-time Iranian director Bahman Motamedian until the last minute to avoid alerting authorities to its sensitive subject: transsexuals in modern-day Iran. The struggles of seven transsexuals depicted in the film are made more complicated by Iran’s strict gender codes and cultural obstacles. But filmmaker Motamedian, who is best known in Iran for theater work, insists the problems they face are universal to transsexuals anywhere in the world: finding their identity and seeking acceptance from their families.
"We know that throughout the world this problems exists," Motamedian said. "The idea was to raise awareness among families especially, because this is the first layer of barrier, and to help people to realize they are not alone and be able to face the problem." Motamedian said he was inspired by the Italian neo-realists in his film-making, and for the movie he cast actual transsexuals, not professional actors, to act a role that he created.
"The cast I worked with had no cinematic training, which I though would be useful to access things that a professional actor wouldn’t be capable," Motamedian said. "Usually an actor is trained to show things. I thought it was important to show what a person was hiding," Motamedian told a news conference on Friday." The movie delves into the lives of seven transsexuals ? six male-to-female transsexuals and one female-to-male.
They struggle with the question of whether a transsexual can find true romantic love, whether or not to go through with a sex change operation, how to tell their families ? and in one case, a wife ? and whether or not to remain in Iran. Motamedian said the most difficult casting was for Shiva, the female-to-male transsexual. "Right up to the day of shooting I hadn’t found a suitable character to play that role … and I even thought about cutting her out," Motamedian said. "As it is a very masculine and male-oriented society, the thought of really coming out and revealing that fact they wanted to come out and revealing they are not a ‘real’ male … has real problems. All of the women I met who wanted to be male didn’t want this to be known, for them it was a real problem coming out."
The dilemma is illustrated in one scene when Shiva, working as a taxi driver, is asked by a police officer to show his license, which identifies him as a woman. The officer’s first question is where her veil is, and Shiva speeds off when he refuses to return the license. Perhaps the most revealing scene is at the end, when one of the transsexuals says she would never consider a sex change operation while living in Iran, because of all of the limits on female freedom in his country.
Motamedian said the film was made without going through official channels to get permission ? meaning that they did without government financial support. But it also means the film won’t be shown in Iran.
"Tedium" is being shown out of competition.
September 12, 2008
UN urged to push for ban on execution of children
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
A human rights group has called for action on executions for crimes committed by children. The vast majority of executions of juvenile offenders take place in Iran, where judges can impose the death penalty in capital cases if the defendant has attained "majority," defined in Iranian law as 9 years for girls and 15 years for boys, says Human Rights Watch. Iran is known to have executed six juvenile offenders so far in 2008. More than130 other juvenile offenders are currently sentenced to death.
In 2005 Iran sparked international outrage when it publicly executed two teenage boys. Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were hanged because according to the regime they were rapists, however gay campaigners insist the boys were killed under Sharia law for the crime of homosexuality. At first it was claimed by Iranian officials that they were aged 18 and 19. The best evidence is that both youths were aged 17 when they were executed and therefore minors, aged 15 or 16, at the time of their alleged crimes.
Iranian human rights campaigners estimate that 4,000 gay men have been executed since the Islamic revolution in 1979. Under Sharia law gay sex illegal, with penalty of death for offenders as young as 14 years old. "Within the structure of many penal codes (in Iran) sodomy laws are grouped together with rape, sexual assault, incest and sexual abuse of children thereby conflating crimes of sexual violence with acts of non-procreative sex," according to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
Earlier this year it was reported that the Iranian authorities are considering extending the use of the death penalty to corruption, prostitution and renouncing Islam, or apostasy, on the internet. HRW said that since January 2005 there have been 32 executions of juvenile offenders in five countries: 26 in Iran, two in Saudi Arabia, two in Sudan, one in Pakistan and one in Yemen. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to report back to the General Assembly on follow-up to its December 2007 resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty for all crimes.
Human Rights Watch wants UN member states to request a similar report on compliance with the absolute ban on the juvenile death penalty. Every state in the world has ratified or acceded to treaties obligating them to ensure that juvenile offenders – persons under 18 at the time of the crime – are never sentenced to death. "We are only five states away from a complete ban on the juvenile death penalty," said Clarisa Bencomo, Middle East children’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch. These few holdouts should abandon this barbaric practice so that no one ever again is executed for a crime committed as a child."
HRW report on juvenile executions:
In Saudi Arabia judges have discretion to impose the death sentence on children from puberty or 15 years – whichever comes first. Saudi Arabia executed at least two juvenile offenders in 2007: Dhahiyan bin Rakan bin Sa`d al-Thawri al-Sibai`i on July 21, 2007, and Mu`id bin Husayn bin Abu al-Qasim bin `Ali Hakami on July 10, 2007. Hakami was only 13 years old at the time of the alleged crime, and 15 at the time of his execution.
According to his father, Saudi authorities did not inform the family of the execution until days later, and did not return boy’s body. In Sudan, the 2005 Interim National Constitution allows for the juvenile death penalty for certain crimes, including murder and armed robbery resulting in murder or rape. Vague language in Sudan’s 2004 Child Law leaves open the possibility that children can still be sentenced to death under the 1991 Penal Code, which defines an adult as "a person whose puberty has been established by definite natural features and who has completed 15 years of age … attained 18 years of age … even if the features of puberty do not appear."
With more than 35 percent of Sudanese births not registered, even very young juvenile offenders can face execution because they have no birth certificates to prove their age at the time of the offense. Sudan executed two juvenile offenders, Mohammed Jamal Gesmallah and Imad Ali Abdullah, on August 31, 2005, and has sentenced at least four other juvenile offenders to death since January 2005. In Pakistan, the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance of 2000 bans the death penalty for crimes committed by persons under 18 at the time of the offense, but authorities have yet to implement it in all territories.
With only 29.5 percent of births registered, juvenile offenders can find it impossible to convince a judge they were children at the time of the crime. Pakistan executed one such juvenile offender, Mutabar Khan, on June 13, 2006. In Yemen, the Penal Code sets a maximum 10-year sentence for capital crimes committed by persons under 18, but in a country with only 22 percent of births registered and minimal capacity for forensic age determinations, children can find it impossible to prove their age at the time of the crime.
Yemen last executed a juvenile offender, Adil Muhammad Saif al-Ma’amari, in February 2007, despite his allegation that he was 16 at the time of the crime and had been tortured to confess. According to nongovernmental organisations and government sources, in 2007 at least 18 other juvenile offenders were on death row.
October 17, 2008
Iran: IGLHRC Welcomes Moratorium on the Death Penalty for Juveniles
Media Contact: Hossein Alizadeh, 212-430-6016, email@example.com
New York – The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) welcomed the announcement this week by the Deputy Attorney General of Iran that judicial authorities would put a moratorium on the death penalty for juveniles. The moratorium will take effect immediately, with plans to seek final parliamentary approval. "The ban on juvenile execution is an important human rights development for sexual minorities, particularly those perceived to be gay," said IGLHRC executive director Paula Ettelbrick. "All too frequently, young Iranian men have been executed as juveniles after being charged with sodomy and other sexual crimes. This is a positive step toward improving human rights in Iran."
Over the past several years, IGLHRC has documented cases in which juveniles were executed based on allegations including sodomy charges. In July 2005, two teenage boys, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, were hanged in public, allegedly for sodomy and rape. Both teenagers were juveniles at the time when the events happened, and one was believed to have been a juvenile at the time of his execution. In December 2007, Iran executed Makvan Mouloodzadeh, a 21-year-old who was accused of committing anal rape (ighab) with other young boys when he was 13 years old.
Historically, Iranian Courts have interpreted Article 49 of the Islamic Penal Code in a way that allows them to impose the death penalty on children. Although Article 49 states that children are not criminally liable, judges often use existing laws to define the age of adulthood as 15 for boys and just 9 for girls. Last June, prominent Iranian lawyer Mr. Mohammad Mostfaii reported that there were close to 100 young people in Iranian jails waiting to be executed for crimes they committed as juveniles. But this week’s announcement by judicial authorities defines juveniles as those under age 18, and says that the maximum penalty for all crimes committed by juveniles is life in prison, which can be reduced to 15 years in jail with parole.
The change comes after significant opposition to the death penalty for minors was voiced in Iran itself. Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has been an outspoken critic of child executions, speaking up against this inhumane practice at national and international forums and representing juvenile defendants in court. Another Iranian group, the Stop Child Execution Campaign, developed an Internet campaign with the goal of ending juvenile execution. In addition, many Iranian women’s groups have been active in the campaign against the death penalty because most of those who have been executed for alleged sexual crimes are women.
"This decision is a great victory for human rights activists-both inside and outside Iran-who have spoken out against the state-sanctioned murders of minors," said Hossein Alizadeh, IGLHRC’s Middle East Specialist, "We hope that Iranian authorities will put an end to all forms of capital punishment, especially for same-sex relations and other sexual crimes."
October 17, 2008
Iranian Queer Railroad Launched—gay refugee works to speed transit to asylum-willing nations
by Doug Ireland
I wrote the following article for Gay City News:
Arsham Parsi, the well-known Iranian gay activist, has announced the launch of the Iranian Queer Railroad (IRQR), a new organization designed specifically to help the growing number of LGBT Iranians forced to leave their country by the violently homophobic policies of the ayatollahs’ theocracy. Homosexuality is a capital crime in Iran. Parsi, 28, founded the first Iranian gay group, the Persian Gay andArsham_parsi_1_2 Lesbian Organization (PGLO), in 2004 while still living in Iran. With the police on his tail for his gay activism, Parsi fled to Turkey in 2005, where he continued his work to publicize the plight of LGBT Iranians, and eventually was granted asylum as a sexual refugee by Canada, where he moved two years ago and changed the name of the PGLO to the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO).
Earlier this year, Parsi and the IRQO were honored by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission with its Felipa Award for pioneering gay activism. Parsi traveled to Turkey in August to meet with Iranian LGBT refugees and plead their case with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that is located there. The UNHCR must grant these queer exiles official refugee status before they can be accepted for asylum in gay-friendly countries. As the result of that trip, Parsi concluded that a new organization dedicated exclusively to helping sexual dissidents flee persecution in Iran was necessary.
"I decided to call our new group the Iranian Queer Railroad after the Underground Railroad in the 19th century, which was an informal network of routes and safe houses helping black slaves in America to escape to freedom in Canada," Parsi told Gay City News by telephone from Toronto, where he now lives. He said a board of directors and an advisory committee for the new organization would be announced soon.
Parsi said he and his organization are now in contact with 145 LGBT Iranian refugees currently in limbo and seeking permanent asylum – 85 of them are in Turkey, which shares a lengthy border with Iran and where cultural and political homophobia is rampant, while the rest are scattered throughout Europe, including in the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, and Norway. Some 22 are in the United Kingdom, which has been extremely reluctant to grant permanent asylum to gay Iranian refugees, and where in the last several years two Iranians have committed suicide after receiving deportation orders back to certain torture and possible death in Iran.
But, said Parsi, "there are many, many more queer refugees from Iran who haven’t yet been in contact with us and who also desperately need help.
"One of our goals with the Iranian Queer Organization was to increase the level of awareness about the Iranian queer situation and the horrible persecution that goes on daily in Iran, and to provide a steady stream of information about homosexuality and the transgendered via Internet into Iran, and I think we’ve had great success in doing that. But after several years of working with PGLO and IRQO, I have a lot more experience now, and it was clear to me we needed a new organization with fresh blood and a structure dedicated solely to helping queer refugees, to help them flee Iran, to support them while they are still in transit countries like Turkey, to assist them in finding their way through the harrowing bureaucratic maze that faces them in order to gain asylum, and to help them get settled and cope with setting up a new life in gay-friendly countries."
Since being granted asylum in Canada, Parsi has been able to make a number of trips to Turkey to help gay refugees and has built a relationship with the UNHCR office there.
"I’m so happy I’ve been able to build a strong relationship with the UNHCR, who are now aware of the Iranian queer situation, and of our organization, and on each of my trips I’ve been able to secure international refugee protection status for more and more Iranian LGBT refugees in Turkey, which is the necessary first step to being granted asylum," Parsi said. "After my last trip there in August, we now have 20 more refugees who’ve been newly granted this status and are now awaiting flights to gay-friendly countries like Canada and Australia."
Parsi told this reporter of a 29-year-old Iranian lesbian refugee he was able to help get an early legal interview with the UNHCR "She had a terrible life in an abusive situation," he explained. "Her family forced her to marry with one of their relatives, and her legal husband raped her every night, and she could do nothing about it because one of the first duties of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran is sexual delivery to their husbands. This poor girl went to a doctor after all the rapes, and the doctor told her, ‘You appear to have been raped by an animal, and you need urgent health care now.’ But her family ordered her to be patient and stay at her husband’s home. She was severely beaten repeatedly by her husband and eventually escaped and went to a friend’s house.
"But while she was there, her brothers came while she was out and told her friend they were going to kill her to save the family’s honor because she left her husband and has suspicious connections with other women. That’s when she fled Iran to Turkey, where she was put in touch with us by one of our members in Iran. When she told me her story, she cried, and I lost control, too. I told her, ‘Don’t go back to Iran, we don’t want to lose any more members of our queer family.’" Parsi’s dedication to these refugees is fueled by his own experience as an exile in Turkey.
"It was the hardest experience in my life," he said. "To suddenly find myself in an unexpected situation in a hostile country without money, with no personal safety or security for 13 months wasn’t easy." Parsi added, "I cannot forget the day in Turkey when I was walking with Amir, another gay refugee who had been tortured and flogged in Iran. We were chased in the street by a homophobic crowd, who beat us hard and tried to kill us. Nobody helped. There were no police who came to our assistance and people were just standing around watching as we were beaten, simply for being gay refugees in their country. I’ll never forget my refugee life in Turkey, and that’s why I’ve decided to dedicate myself exclusively to making queer refugees’ stay in Turkey as short as possible and to help them get to freedom in gay-friendly countries."
Parsi told this reporter, "I just received a phone call from Turkey. Two of our refugees – one who is 28 and one who is 29 – who had rented a room together, were visited by the mother of the landlord who told them, ‘We just found out you are gay, and you have to leave because you are gay.’
"Our two refugees, who didn’t speak much Turkish, called the police, who instead of admonishing the landlord arrested our refugees. While in custody, one of them, who is diabetic, went into diabetic shock, but was not allowed by the police to take his insulin. The police insulted them and told them, ‘If you’re not happy here, go back to Iran.’ Turkish police are very hostile to gay people in general and to gay Iranian refugees in particular. Beatings are very common. That’s just another illustration of why it is so urgent to get these refugees out of Turkey to a safe country."
Parsi provided Gay City News with translations from Persian of several short statements left on the IRQO and IRQR websites from Iranian queers giving their personal histories. The stories were posted as part of their applications for assistance in finding asylum.
Ali, who is 30, escaped from Iran to Turkey in December 2007, where he is now awaiting resettlement.
"I was caught when I was having sex with a guy by his father, who was a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard," Ali wrote. "As a result, I lost my job and I and my family were threatened with death. I was arrested several times in Iran, the last time was in the summer of 2007 while I was on vacation in the north of Iran, and the Islamic Guard arrested me simply because I was wearing a T-shirt and jeans and had spiky hair. I don’t feel safe even here in Turkey because the father of the guy I had sex with is in the Revolutionary Guard and has the ability to find me here and have me killed so he can cover up the scandal of his queer son. I didn’t do anything, I’m just a gay man who was born in a country in which my existence was forbidden, just for being gay, just for having a special feeling which is not that of a majority of society. I love guys. It is my right to be free, but I have to live in exile for it. I need help."
Hossein, 22, escaped from Iran to Turkey in September 2006, where he has been languishing while awaiting official refugee status and the granting of asylum in a gay-friendly country.
"I am a musician," Hossein wrote, "and I used to perform at various celebrations, including weddings and parties. These gatherings were often raided, but usually the host would pay the authorities a bribe and that would end the matter. I am homosexual. I had my first relationship at age 12 with the son of a neighbor, it lasted two years. In September 2006 I was playing along with other musicians at a private gay party in a home. The party was raided and the police attacked us viciously. One person was beaten so badly that later I learned he had died from it. I was beaten for ten minutes and lost consciousness for about ten hours. I was later arrested while I was in hospital. Eventually my mother and a friend of mine came to the hospital, my friend was dressed in the uniform of a sergeant in the disciplinary forces, and pretended to relieve the soldier who was guarding my room. I put on a hospital worker’s uniform and was able to escape. After I was smuggled into Turkey, my family’s home was raided and my mother and father arrested for three days on charges of helping me escape for being gay. My father was detained and tortured for a year and later died. I’m waiting to be granted refugee status by UNHCR and I need your help."
Parsi told Gay City News that he financed his August trip to Turkey out of his own pocket from money he’d saved while working in a Toronto restaurant. Now, Parsi said, he’s planning another urgent trip to Turkey in November to try to get UNHCR refugee status for still more Iranian queer refugees, but has no personal resources left and is raising money for the trip.
"I know you gay Americans are preoccupied with your elections," Parsi said, "but I beg you to spare a thought for these poor queer refugees in Turkey, who are living in terribly squalid conditions, unable to work because they don’t speak Turkish and because of queerophobia, and who are stateless and without hope until they can be granted legal, international recognition of their status as refugees by UNHCR. We also need money to begin English language and computer courses for them to prepare them for new lives in freedom and to help them pass the time and escape those feelings of hopelessness. Please, spare us a few dollars for your queer brothers and sisters who are victims of religious persecution."
Donations for Parsi’s urgent November trip and to support LGBT Iranian refugees may be made in two ways – via credit card on the secure PayPal "donate" button on the Iranian Queer Railroad’s web site at http://www.irqr.net/, or by check to Iranian Queer Railroad c/o Arsham Parsi, PH4-150 Graydon Hall Drive, Toronto, Ontario, M3A 3B3 Canada.
HIV/AIDS knowledge and attitude among MSM in Tehran
by N. Moshtagh Bidokhti1, M. Eftekhar2, A. Feizzadeh3, H.R. Setayesh3, A. Vasigh4, K. Azadmanesh5
Background: Men who have sex with men are a highly stigmatized and marginalized group in Iran and there is no specialized care available for this group. In this study HIV/AIDS knowledge and attitude of a group of MSM were evaluated.
Methods: This is a cross-sectional epidemiological study using RDS sampling conducted in 2007. The data was gathered through screen touch monitors. Sample size was 101.
Results: The data indicated that 69.4% and 82.4% have ever heard about sexually transmitted infections/diseases and HIV/AIDS respectively. Around 50% have known somebody living with or dying of HIV and AIDS; from whom 15.2% were a close relative and 51.6% a close friend. Only 5.3% (2.3% – 11.5%) had "Comprehensive Correct Knowledge" about HIV/AIDS.
The following table shows the answers to seven explicit questions about attitudes toward people living with HIV: Proportion Answered (95% Confidence Interval)
YES –> NO –> Don´t Know
Willing to eat with an HIV positive person – 20.9%
(12.2% – 33.3%) – 61.5%
(47.1% – 74.2%) – 17.5%
(8.3% – 33.1%)
Willing to care a relative with cancer at home – 68.6%
(54.1% – 80.1%) – 18.7%
(9.1% – 34.4%) – 12.6%
(6.9% – 21.9%)
Willing to care a relative with HIV at home – 36.1%
(23.7% – 50.7%) – 44.1%
(30.9% – 58.1%) – 19.7%
(11.7% – 31.7%)
An HIV positive student still may go to school, while not sick – 34.7%
(23.5% – 48.0%) – 34.7%
(22.4% – 49.4%) – 30.4%
(18.8% – 45.2%)
An HIV positive teacher still may teach, while not sick – 51.0%
(37.3% – 64.5%) – 29.8%
(19.1% – 43.2%) – 19.1%
(11.6% – 29.7%)
Will buy food from an HIV positive food-seller – 14.7%
(6.2% – 30.9%) – 73.1%
(58.3% – 84.1%) – 12.0%
(6.1% – 22.3%)
Prefer the status of an HIV positive family member remain undisclosed – 55.2%
(41.3% – 68.4%) – 20.8%
(12.7% – 32.3%) – 23.8%
(13.2% – 39.0%)
Conclusion: HIV/AIDS knowledge is very low and there are many false beliefs and negative attitude toward HIV/AIDS in this group.
December 17, 2008
Executive Director Report for the IRQR Board of Directors
I went to Turkey on October 28, 2008 to work on individual refugee cases for the IRanian Queer Railroad. I traveled to Kayseri, Nigde, Isparta and Koniya to meet Iranian queer asylum seekers. I spent hours listening to their stories about fleeing from Iran and talking about their current situation in Turkey. On November 18, I met with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ankara. I wrote an update report for the IRQR and presented it to UNHCR office. I traveled with some asylum seekers to Ankara in order to help them as much as possible. The IRQR is dealing with some urgent cases involving individuals living in very difficult circumstances in Turkey.
One of them was Peyman, a 26 year-old gay Iranian who fled from Iran to Turkey 13 months ago. He is in a very bad financial and emotional situation, minimizing his expenses by living with five other refugees in a small apartment located in a poor area of the city. Neli is a 38 year-old male to female transgender who fled from Iran to Turkey 14 months ago. Neli is not in a very good emotional state and needs support. Naval is an 18 year-old male to female transgender who is living with a sibling, Tarmin, a 21 year-old female to male transgender. Both of them are in terrible situation and they need support.
So far, the IRQR has not been able to help them financially because of its limited resources but we are looking for a way to help them.Hossein and Shayan are an Iranian gay couple who have been waiting for about 5 months. Their families do not know where they are located because the couple fled without giving any notice. They are emotionally distraught and facing hardship. Fortunately, a few days after meeting with the IRQR, Peyman, Naval and Neli, Hossein and Shayan were all recognized as refugee by the UNHCR in Ankara. But there are many more people waiting for their application to be processed and the IRQR is striving to help them urgently. Neli told me that the "IRQR helped me a lot, they changed my life. Now after 14 months of stress, I can be hopeful that one day I will be in Canada. On that day, I will try to support the IRQR to help our queer brothers and sisters."
Peyman says: "I do not know how I should thank you for all the IRQR help. One more step is over now and I have to wait for the Canadian Embassy interview which I don’t know when it is. I hope they call me soon because my financial state does not allow me to wait for a long period of time. I should leave Turkey as quick as possible because I have to pay Turkish temporary residency fee for every single day that I am here and I do not have money."
I am so pleased to note the progress. The situation has improved since the time when I was recognized as a refugee. A special thanks should be expressed to the UNHCR staff members who are working hard on refugee cases. It not easy to deal with thousands of refugees but they are very supportive and effective. Also, I wish to thank John and all of our sponsors who
supported us and paid all of my travel expenses.
Executive Director IRanian Queer Railroad – IRQR www.irqr.net firstname.lastname@example.org
December 21, 2008
Iran: Reverse Closure of Nobel Laureate’s Rights Group (non-gay background story)
Raid May Herald Broader Attack on Human Rights Defenders
New York – The unlawful raid by Iranian security forces on the Tehran rights group run by Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi on December 21, 2008, raises concerns of a broader attempt to silence Iran’s human rights community, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and Human Rights Watch said today. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and Human Rights Watch called on the Iranian government to immediately allow the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC) to reopen its office, and to investigate and hold accountable those authorities responsible for conducting the raid without warrant or other apparent legal basis.
The DHRC, which was founded by Ebadi, who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, and other prominent Iranian human rights defenders in 2000, planned to hold the 60th anniversary celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at their Tehran office on December 21. "The closure of DHRC is not just an attack on Shirin Ebadi and her Iranian colleagues, but on the entire international human rights community of which she is an influential and important member," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "The Iranian authorities should allow the center to reopen and investigate why it was raided in the first place."
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and Human Rights Watch expressed serious concerns of further persecution and possible prosecutions of Ebadi and DHRC members. In similar cases, Iranian authorities have frequently followed office raids and other harassment with arbitrary arrests and detention, often leading to prosecutions on dubious charges. Currently, Mohammad Sadiq Kaboudvand, founder of the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization, is serving a 10-year prison sentence solely for his activities as a human rights defender.
Narges Mohammadi, DHRC’s spokesperson, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that nearly 300 human rights defenders and supporters had been invited to the private celebration. She said a few hours before the start of the program, at around 3 p.m., she arrived at DHRC’s office to find dozens of police, members of state security forces, and plainclothes agents attempting to enter the building.
According to Mohammadi: "I asked them to produce a search warrant, but instead the commander told me, ‘My uniform is the legal basis, I don’t need to give you any warrant.’ As I was discussing the issue with the uniformed officer in charge, a plainclothes agent physically approached and threatened me while shouting insults. Police agents quickly restrained him and moved him away while he was shouting at me, ‘If you were not a woman, I would drag your legs and throw you into the street.’" The government agents entered the office while Mohammadi, Ebadi, and two other DHRC members were present. The agents filmed the premises, made an inventory, and forced the center’s members to leave before putting locks on all entrances.
Security forces videotaped guests as they arrived for the event, and prevented them from approaching the building. They also confiscated journalists’ cameras. "Plainclothes agents attacked and intimidated guests. In one instance, they beat a member of DHRC, Hadi Esmailzadeh, on his chest and head and took his mobile telephone away. Their behavior was violent and vulgar," Mohammadi said.
"If Shirin Ebadi and DHRC cannot hold a simple event to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then no Iranian citizen has any security to talk about or advocate for human rights," said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesperson for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. "This is a litmus test for the Iranian government’s tolerance of human rights defenders, and its results show ‘zero tolerance.’" DHRC’s mission statement describes its primary duties as "pro-bono legal defense of prisoners of conscience," "supporting families of prisoners of conscience," and "documentation and reporting of human rights abuses."
The government of Iran has an affirmative obligation to protect rights advocates. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which the UN’s General Assembly adopted by consensus in 1998, declares that states "shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of [human rights defenders] against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary actions" as a consequence of their legitimate effort to promote human rights.