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November 24, 2005

"SAVE US!"--A Gay Iranian Who Married His Partner Begs for Help from the West

I wrote the following article for Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly --  in whose new edition it will appear tommorow:

Iran_noose_ii_3  The lethal anti-gay pogrom in the Islamic Republic of Iran under recently-elected, arch-conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (lower right) continues to send homosexuals to the gallows. In the latest hangings of gays, the semi-official, ultraconservative daily Kayhan reported on November 13 that two gay men, Mokhtar N., 24, and Ali A., 25, were publicly executed for “penetrative homosexual Ahmadinejad_4 acts” in the Shahid Bahonar Square of the northern city of Gorgan, which has a population of some 200,000. Human Rights Watch, in denouncing these latest gay executions, said in a statement that, “These abuses have created an atmosphere of terror for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people throughout Iran.”

Three other homosexuals -- identified only by the names Youness, Hossein, and Ruhollah -- were hanged to death in the western city of Kermanshah on November 21, according to another Iranian press report relayed by Iran Focus, an exile website. The Iran newspapers said the men were charged with “rape” of a 19-year-old male. But phony rape charges are frequently used to hang gay people in Iran -- Irangay_teens_15 as they were in the hangings of two teenage gay lovers in the city of Mashad on July 19 (above left)-- because, under the Sharia law in force in the Islamic Republic, proving “homosexual acts” requires four witnesses, so it is easier for the regime to invent rape charges in order to eliminate gay people. Iranian gay groups and underground publications have repeatedly warned the West not to accept such charges at face value.

Mojtaba, 27, is the latest escapee from Iran’s anti-gay reign of terror to describe what life is like for same-sexers in Iran. (see also my earlier interview with 22-year-old Amir, "They'll Kill Me" -- A Gay Iranian Torture Victim Recounts His Ordeal.) In a two-and-a-half hour interview last week on the phone from Turkey, Mojtaba -- through a translator from the Persian -- told me his story.

Mojtaba, a soft-spoken young man, is from Shiraz, a city of some 1,100,000 people in southwest Iran that, in the 18th century , was the capital of Persia. “I was born in Shiraz to a middle class family -- my father has a small business. I was the middle child of four brothers and two sisters, and my brothers always taunted me with being a ‘sissy,’ telling me how embarrassed they were when I start to speak and how I move my hands. The only one who understands me is my mother -- she has never forced me to marry a girl, as other mothers would do. As a child I always felt and thought I was a girl, and my strongest desire was to grow up and marry and become a mother. I know that she has felt I’m gay -- she has treated me like a daughter -- but she keeps quiet and nurtures my secret inside.”

Mojtaba’s first sexual experience happened when he was in a boys’ dormitory at university, where he was studying business management. “I was a virgin until I was 17,” he says. “I had lived a completely fearful and isolated life. I was confused and scared. I finally approached myPersian_boys  university roommate, telling him how much I liked him and offering to have sex with him -- I started with jokes and humor, then became more flirtatious. At first he responded that ‘you act like a pedophile,’ or ‘are you a fag?’ But his language gradually changed to a playful tone -- and finally, we had sex. That first experience -- one of joy and satisfaction -- assured me that I’m really a homosexual. Our sexual relationship continued for a long time -- but my roommate never let on how much he enjoyed it, although I know he did. He considered himself straight -- today he is married and has two children.” (Avove Right, 17th century Persian painting)

Mojtaba says that first sexual relationship “gave me self-esteem and courage. I had Internet access, and finally found a site about a group of gays in our city. I got in touch with them and I was invited to their parties, where I met many like me -- and for the first time I felt I’m not really alone, that I’m not really a sick person!”

Mojtaba was introduced to the lad who became his partner five years ago by a mutual friend. “Mehrdad is two years younger than me, from more or less the same socio-economic status, and has a high-school diploma. At the beginning of our relationship, we just got to know each other, talking about our selves, our feelings, needs, and identity -- Mehrdad, like me, had also felt lonely and isolated. He had been forced by his family to marry a girl, but was miserably unhappy. After several meetings, we became boyfriends.”

“We usually throw parties in our homes. Finally, in June this year, we decided to announce our commitment, to have a secret marriage and Persian_wedding_feast invite our group of friends. We rented a private garden usually used for wedding gatherings, and we provided all the traditional Persian trappings of a wedding -- we spread silk table clothes on the ground with food, flowers, fruits, pastries, honey, sugar cane, candles….” (Left, a traditional Persian wedding spread) Mojtaba and Mehrdad are religious, and the Koran was used in their marriage. “The wedding ceremony began at 8:00 AM and lasted until 9:00 P.M.. We exchanged wedding rings, everyone brought gifts, and we played music and danced the whole time. Only the 25 friends we invited knew about our wedding, none of our blood relatives knew.”

Iran_noose_6 Mojtaba was already known to the police as a homosexual, because he had been among those arrested for attending a gay party in Shiraz a few years earlier. “The secret police attacked us, beat us, and took us to the prison of the Office for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. We were kept there for two horrible days of muscular interrogations, fined, but finally released because they could not find any documents to prove our crime of being gay. We were forced to sign a pledge not to engage in any ‘degenerate, anti-religious’ activities that violated the religious commandments, like gay sex. They threatened us that the next time they caught us, we’d be treated as criminals, locked up or executed. We found out later that it was a boy named Ahmad who had informed the police about our party.” Ahmad, the son of a high-ranking and influential military officer, was turned into an informer after he was arrested and condemned to death, Mojtaba says. “He agreed to save his life by becoming a spy on us -- now our fellows are scared to death of him. He’s very bitter because he’d asked one of our gay friends to have a relationship with him, but he’d been rejected. Now Ahmad abuses his power as a police informant, and tries to harm us in as many ways as he can.”

Mojtaba suspects that it was Ahmad, the police informer, who found out about his marriage with Mehrdad and ratted them out. The couple had made a videotape of their wedding, and Mehrdad had a copy. This video helped seal their fate.

“One day after our wedding, Mehrdad asked me, ‘Why don’t we rent aTurkey_gay_paintiing_2  place and live together?’ It wasn’t possible in Shiraz, where we would be too visible and couldn‘t live our gay life together separately from our families. So we decided to go to Tehran, under the pretext of finding better jobs and a better future. Tehran is a huge city, about 14 million people, we thought we could lose ourselves in the city, and nobody would be suspicious of our decision to live together.”

“So I went to Tehran, and our plan was that when I got a job and an apartment, Mehrdad would join me. But after a few days, I got a call from my brother, telling me the police had been to my family’s home in Shiraz looking for me. ‘What’s this about a videotape?’ my brother asked. I quickly found out that the Office for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice had arrested Mehrdad, seized his videos -- including the one of our wedding -- and his computer and CDs, and thrown him into prison.” Members of the wedding party identified on the videotape have also been arrested. Because Mojtaba already had a police record as a homosexual, he knew he was in danger of imminent arrest. So, he says, “I immediately asked my brother to send me my passport via a bus driver -- and two days later I left by bus for Turkey.”

Once in Turkey, Mojtaba was able to get in touch with Arsham Parsi (right), the human rights secretary of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization there, who helped him prepare an appealArsham_parsi to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) for recognition as a legitimate asylum seeker with refugee status. But, says Mojtaba, he has heard nothing from the UNHCR.

Turkey_map_1  “Life in Turkey is unbearable,” Mojtaba says. “The government, the police, and the people treat us very badly -- they ridicule us and make fun of us. The Turkish police say, ‘Why don’t you go back to your country? Don’t you know that people in Turkey are very religious?’ I have to go to the police station three times a week to be fingerprinted and sign a paper affirming that I haven’t left the city. Every six months I will have to pay $200 to the police. I’m unemployed, I have no money, no residence permit, no identity card, no future. To find a job I need to learn the language, but to learn the language I have to have money to pay for the classes. I have nobody I can ask to borrow money just to live from day to day.”

Mojtaba is convinced that if he is deported back to Iran, he will be arrested and executed. “After the election of Ahmadinejad, the situation for gays has become so much worse. They have executed two gays in Mashad, two in Gorgan, and soon two more will be executed in Arak. I’m paralyzed. I can think of no other possibilities. And I have no news of my beloved Mehrmad -- his family will tell me nothing. Is he being tortured in prison, like so many others? And if they execute him, what will I do with my guilt?”

“I would like to ask a question of the people of the world: is there anyone who can listen and understand what I’m saying? Is there any one who can save us? To be gay and Iranian is worse than anything else! Do you think it is in my hands to change my gayness? I am not god, able to change myself. Are we made this way just to make you laugh? I think we gay Iranians have no future. We are marginalized and persecuted. Should I stay here in Turkey to die in isolation, or go back to Iran and be prepared for execution? Save us! Help us!”

If you are in a position to make a financial contribution to helpPglo_logo_1  Mojtaba, you may do so by bank transfer to the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO) bank account in Turkey: Bank Name: KOC BANK; USD. Account NO.: 422 65 193; Branch Code: 975 Turkey. Or contact the PGLO’s human rights secretary, Arsham Parsi, at hrc@pglo.org

Ezzat Gourshegir, an Iranian playwright, provided invaluable translation assistance for this article.

For background on the new wave of anti-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.August 25 -- Iran's Anti-Gay Purge Grows: Reports of New Executions. September 8 -- Iran and the Death of Gay Activism. September 20 -- "They'll Kill Me" -- A Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks of His Ordeal ; September 29 -- Iranian Gays Urgently Appeal for Help ; October 6 -- Canada Introduces UN Resolution Condemning Iran's Human Rights Record

Also see Rob Anderson's excellent article in The New Republic, How America's Gay Establishment is Betraying Gay Iranians.

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