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August 25, 2005

IRAN'S ANTI-GAY PURGE GROWS--REPORTS OF NEW GAY EXECUTIONS

I wrote the following article for the new issue of Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly -- which hit the newsstands today:

Iran_noose_1 There have been reports of a new execution of a gay man in the city of Arak, Iran, on August 16, and of other executions of four men, ages 17 to 24, for unspecified “sexual offenses.” But it is difficult to confirm these reports with total accuracy, because of the climate of fear which prevails in the Islamic Republic of Iran today. The newly-elected, reactionary regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (lower right) has heightened its campaign of repression of gay people since the worldwide protests against the hanging of two gay teens in Mashad on July 19, and Iranians -- both gay and straight --are afraid to communicate with the outside world on these matters.Ahmadinejad_1

At the beginning of this week, 365gay.com posted an article claiming that a gay man had been executed in Arak on August 16, and cited as its source the British newspaper, The Observer. But when I talked by phone with the author of The Observer’s article -- the paper’s social affairs editor, Jamie Doward -- he told me that The Observer had no independent source for his article’s one-sentence reference to this new execution, and said that he got the information from a private e-mail he’d received from the British gay rights group OutRage.

At the same time, a French gay group, Solidarité Internationale LGBT, sent out an alert this week saying that a gay man had been executed in Arak, but on a later date -- August 19 -- and adding a new detail, that this man was one of the two men whom (as GCN had previously reported) had been condemned to be executed in Arak on August 28, and who were “gay,” according to gay Iranian sources. The French group cited no sources and no other details, and attempts to reach them by phone and e-mail were unsuccessful by press time.

When this reporter tried to confirm from Iranian sources the report that had appeared in The Observer and the French report, he received an e-mailed reply from an underground ‘zine for gays edited in Farsi in Tehran (whose editors requested, out of fear, that neither their name nor that of their publication be cited) saying that their information was that a man had been hanged in the public square in Arak on August 16, but that they had no information as to his sexuality. This was the same source, OutRage’s Brett Locke said by telephone from London, from which OutRage had received its information about the latest execution in Arak. Since both this non-Farsi-speaking reporter’s communications with Iran, and those of OutRage, were in English, there may have been a language problem explaining the contradictions between the differing reports received from the Iranian gay ‘zine‘s editors, whose English is far from perfect.

Farshad Hoseini of the Netherlands secretariat of the International Federation of Iranian Refugees (IFIR), when asked about the supposed August 16 execution, said that they had knowledge of a public hanging in Arak’s main square of a 21 year old man -- but said it had taken place two days earlier, on August 14. Hoseini, too, said IFIR had no information about the young man’s sexuality, indicating the official charge against him was homicide.

Afdhere Jama, editor of the gay e-’zine for Muslims, Huriyah -- who had just returned from a lengthy European trip, during which he met with Iranians in exile -- told me this week that his Iranian contacts, both inside and outside Iran, were upset with the way some human rights organizations in the West were so readily accepting the official government versions of the crimes for which men thought to be gay were being executed. “Under Islamic law, which has been adopted by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s legal system, it takes four witnesses to prove an act of homosexuality, which is a capital crime. That’s why its much easier for the Islamic government to invent other criminal charges against gay people to get rid of them,” Jama said.

In an e-mail to this reporter from the underground gay publication in Iran, its editors expressed a similar view, saying “the government invent all kind of charges on gay people that are not true, and are not to [be] believed.” They urged those in the West to be “very careful” before accepting such criminal charges at face value.

On August 23, the news website Iran Focus -- run by Iranian exiles -- posted a story saying, “Four young men between the ages of 17 and 23 were hanged in public in the port city of Bandar Abbas.” Citing as its source “the ultra-Islamist daily” Kayhan, Iran Focus added, “All four were accused of sex offences and theft. Iran_noose_ii The daily quoted an unnamed Justice Ministry official as saying that the reason why young men were committing so many sex offences was that ‘they are not aware of the punishment for their offences under Islamic laws.’” That, of course, is what the two gay teens hanged in Mashad had said through their lawyer, according to multiple published reports--that they were unaware homosexual acts between two consenting people were a crime. Thus, the statement by the Justice Ministry official strongly suggests -- although this is speculative -- that the “sexual offenses” for which the four young men in Bandar Abbas were executed was homosexuality.

The following day Iran Focus reported, “Iran’s clergy-dominated Supreme Court has given the green light for the hanging of a 16-year-old schoolboy in Tehran, a state-owned daily reported on Wednesday. The boy, identified only by his first name Mostafa, was convicted of killing a man in a scuffle that began when the boy tried to save a girl who was being harassed by the drunken man…Mostafa, who had no criminal record, told the Islamic judge that when he saw the drunken man insult and harass a young girl near his home in Tehran Pars district, he intervened and tried to save the girl, but the foul-mouthed man began to beat him. In the brawl that followed, Mostafa killed the man.” Iran Focus cited as its source the pro-regime daily Etemaad. Iran is signatory to two international treaties by which it pledges not to execute minors.

In a related development, the British gay rights group Stonewall this week asked the U.K. Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, to halt the deportation of a 29-year-old gay Iranian back to Iran, which was ordered by a judge in what Stonewall calls an instance of “institutional homophobia.”

In ordering the deportation, the British judge used homophobic language, writing that the Iranian man had been “engaging in buggery” and describing his sexual orientation as a “predilection.“ Stonewall’s Ben Summerskill said. “I am shocked that this sort of language is still being used in 2005.” The gay man, whose name was not disclosed to protect him if he is deported, says he fled Iran after a gay friend was arrested by police, who seized a videotape of the two men kissing, and asserts he fears for his life if returned to his home country. Another Iranian gay man, 26-year-old Hussein Nassen, committed suicide in July two weeks after the U.K. refused his appeal for asylum. Hussein fled from Iran in March 2000 after being imprisoned for three months for his sexuality. Friends said he feared he would be executed if he was returned to Iran.

For background on the new wave of gay repression in Iran, see my previous articles: July 21 -- Iran Executes Two Gay Teenagers (Updated); August 11 -- Iran Sources Question Rape Charges in Teen Executions; August 12 -- Two New Gay Executions Scheduled in Iran, Says Iranian Exile Group; August 17 -- Iran's Deadly Anti-Gay Crackdown: With Two More Executions Scheduled, the Pace of Repression Steps Up.

IRANIAN PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD VISITS NEW YORK ON SEPTEMBER 14, when he is scheduled to address the United Nations -- yet not a single gay or human rights organization has as yet called for a New York demonstration of protest against Iran's executions of gays and minor children, although there have been or will be such protests in London, Dublin, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Stockholm, The Hague, and other cities around the world. The silence here in New York is deafening -- and sad.

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