« February 2006 | Main | April 2006 »

March 31, 2006

Warsaw: POLICE ATTACK LE MADAME, EXPEL OCCUPANTS

Le_madame_police_cordon Warsaw police have raided the renowned gay club and counter-cultural center Le Madame, and declared the club closed for good (for background and a description of Le Madame's important role in Warsaw's cultural life, see my article for Gay City News from March 29 on "The Siege of Le Madame." )

Lukasz Palucki -- a graduate student in social psychology, a gay activist with Poland's Equality Foundation, and one of the organizers of Warsaw Gay Pride --has e-mailed me from Warsaw to say that the police raid on the famous club occurred this morning at 6 AM Warsaw time. (Photo above left, the police cordon around Le Madame after the raid.)

Le Madame had been occupied by hundreds of defenders since Monday, when police blockaded the club and ordered everyone to leave. Yesterday, the American actor John Malkovich had joined a press conference at the club to express his support. This morning, however, "We had too few people inside at that hour to protect the club," Palucki writes. Police expelled all the 50-odd occupants of the club at the time of theLe_madame_green_chair  raid , including Magda Mosiewicz (right, outside Le Madame after being kicked out of her office), the chairwoman of the Polish Green Party (which now no longer has a headquarters, as their office was in Le Madame on its first floor). The police expulsion was very brutal, Palucki reports, with many beatings of the defending occupants, who gave passive resistance -- some of them had chained themselves to pipes and railings inside the club.

Le_madame_graffiti The expelled club defenders regrouped on the street, and chanted at the police, "TO NIE KONIEC, TO POCZATEK" ("It's Not Over, It's Just the Beginning." People continued to surround the club, and refused to leave. (Photo left: a graffiti on the outside wall of the club after the police raid, which reads "Generation Le Madame Still Alive.") At 7 PM Warsaw time tonight, a protest rally and concert has been called, to take place in the street in front of Le Madame. Two Polish political parties representing the minority left opposition in the Warsaw City Council (which is dominated by homophobic Polish President Lech Kaczynski's ultra-conservative Law and Justice Party, which had ordered the club closed and the police raid) have called for an emergency meeting of the City Council to discuss the police closing of Le Madame; those parties are the Social Democrats and the Social Democratic Union. You can see more photos of the police raid and the scene inside and outside the club by clicking here. For an extensive report I wrote on March 29 for Gay City News on The Siege of Le Madame, click here.

Posted by Direland at 06:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 29, 2006

WARSAW -- THE SIEGE OF LE MADAME: A Polish Stonewall?

I wrote the following article for Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly -- and it will appear on the GCN website later today and in next week's print paper:

Kaczynski_twins_3 This week saw dramatic new evidence of the ultra-conservative and homophobic atmosphere reigning in Poland since the election last October of a new hard-right government led by the reactionary, gay-baiting President Lech Kaczynski and his equally queer-bashing twin brother Jaroslav, who controls the Polish parliament. (Left, the Kacynski twins)

On Monday, March 25, Warsaw police blockaded Le Madame, a hugely popular gay club that is also the hub of counter-cultural activities and political dissent in Poland’s capital, and prepared to evacuate its patrons and shut it down -- for good. The shutdown of the club was ordered by the Warsaw City Council, which is controlled by the Kaczynski twins’ Law and Justice Party (PiS).

But police got a surprise -- those inside refused to leave, declaring they would stay as long as necessary to protect the club from the police. More than 200 people began an over-night sit-in. And the police barricades at the entrance to Le Madame didn’t prevent reinforcements, some from out of town and including women and children, from sneaking into the club through windows and back entrances to join the sit-in.

A group of militants from a small political party, Nowa Lewa (New Left), led by its chairman, Piotr Ikonowicz, eventually broke through the police barricades while lobbing a few beer bottles at blockading forces. Negotiations (photo lower right)between the Jaceb_bogiel_krystian_legierski representative of the Warsaw city government, Jaceck Bogiel (who was Krystian_legierski_ii in command of the police blockade) and the club’s openly gay owner, Krystian Legierski (left, a Polish-born black and a gay activist with the Warsaw Lambda Association) eventually led to withdrawal of all but a skeleton crew of police. The authorities gave assurances that no action would be taken against the club for 48 hours. But the promises were met with skepticism by those occupying Le Madame, and on Tuesday night -- following a large party to thank Le Madame’s supporters for bringing the police to a standstill and obtaining the temporary truce -- more than 30 people staged a sleep-in at the club to protect it from the police.

Why has Poland’s ruling party targeted Le Madame for elimination? “We represent everything the Kacynskis hate,” the club’s artistic director, Kastia (Kate) Szurstow, told me by telephone from inside Le Madame, as police stood guard outside. Lavishly decorated (with flea-market furniture), the club, which opened three years ago in the Old Town neighborhood of the center city, sprawls over two floors of a converted electronics factory. Originally a gay venue, it has become in addition the host to a whole skein of multi-cultural and counter-cultural artistic and political activities. “We work with 61 theater groups and have produced 204 plays and pieces of performance art -- everything from Chekhov and the classics to a play featuring only actors who were all schizophrenics. Our primary focus, however, is contemporary theater and art,” said Szurstow. “We also have exhibits of all kinds of art, paintings and photographs. Some of the exhibits have included nude photos, and the authorities used this to try to have us condemned for ‘pornography,’” Szurstow chuckles, “even though no sex acts were portrayed.”

Moreover. the club is regularly host to contestatory political groups of all stripes for Rainbow_flag_5 forums and debates about ideas. “Gays, feminists, anti-globalization activists, pacifists, anarchists, the left-wing opposition parties, we welcome them all here, especially when they find it hard to get meeting rooms elsewhere,” Szurstow said. “Everyone is welcome here , gay, straight, whatever. We can be having a political debate on the first floor and a huge party and discotheque on the floor above,” she added. The Warsaw Green Party has its offices on the club’s first floor. And there’s a dark backroom for customers’ trysts on the second floor.

This rainbow gathering place for every sort of sexual, political, and cultural ferment is, indeed, everything the Kaczynski twins hate. Coming to power in an election in which 77% of the vote went to parties calling themselves right-wing -- from the Kacynzki’s Law and Justice Party, which promised a “moral cleansing” of Poland, to the anti-Semitic, homophobic League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin) and the neo-fascist, xenophobic, and homophobic Self-Defense Party (Samoobrona) -- the Kaczyinski’s government chose as Prime Minister a radical Catholic fundamentalist, Kazimierz_marcinkiewicz_4 Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz (left), who is militant in his condemnation of homosexuality as “unnatural” behavior which the state must stop from “infecting” others. As Mayor of Warsaw before becoming Poland’s President, Lech Kacynzki banned Warsaw’s Gay Pride Parade for two years running -- and as President, one of his first acts was to abolish the government human rights office charged with enforcing nondiscrimination against homosexuals. His brother Jaroslav, who controls parliament with an iron first, has proposed banning gays from teaching in the schools at any level. And just weeks after the election, in the city of Poznan, on November 19 the local government dominated by the twins’ party sent police to assault and violently break up a March for Equality organized by gays and lesbians, with 68 arrests and many injured.

It was fear of this sort of homophobia from the Kaczynskis and their ultra-right allies that motored a January 18 resolution passed by the European Parliament at Strasbourg condemning homophobia as “an irrational fear and aversion” and calling on member states like Poland to provide gay people "the same respect, dignity and protection as the rest of society." (The resolution passed 469-129, with support from parties of both left and right.)

The attempt to close down Le Madame shows that the Kaczynskis and their political followers don’t give a fig for the pro-gay human rights pronouncements emanating from Strasbourg. But the attempt to shut down the club has met with wide-spread criticism from left-wing political leaders, writers, and celebrities, says Lukasz Palucki, an activist with the Equality Foundation and one of the organizers of Warsaw Gay Pride. “On Monday night, we had political leaders come to the club in solidarity,” Marek_borowski_2 Palucki told me from inside the club, “including Marek Borowski (left), chairman of the Social Democratic Party, and Wojciech Olejnicsak Wojciech_olejnicsak (right), chairman of the Social Democratic Union. So did a famous polish feminist, Kaziera Szczuka (lower left, wearing red scarf, in front of Le Madame), who also hosts two television programs on the TVN network; the head of the Green Party; and many more." Both Palucki and Szurstow said they had even received expressions of sympathy from national government ministers of the Kacynski’s own party -- “but not in public,” Szurstow said. “These ministers, these big politicians, come by for a drink and say ‘It’s terrible what’s happening to you, but what can we do? We have no power over the local authorities.”

The siege of Le Madame was extensively covered in the media -- and largely sympathetically. Although the siege was blacked out on government-owned TV, six private TV networks sent camera crews, and it was the lead item on the evening news broadcasts of nearly all of them, Palucki said.

The country’s largest and most respected national daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza (edited by Adam Michnik (right), the well-known former dissident leader under Adam_michnik_2 Poland’s Communist governments) devoted the entire front cover of its daily Warsaw Roman_pawlowski supplement to the siege of Le Madame, with team coverage. The paper’s theater critic, Roman Pawlowski (left), wrote that Le Madame was “a great civic institution” and “one of the most artistic venues in town” which had, “without getting any government money, put on more plays, and plays of quality, than all the subsidized theaters put together.” Similar expressions of support could be found in all but the most extreme-right newspapers.

.When the temporary truce ends on Thursday, what will happen? Will the police conduct an evacuation of Le Madame by force, with resistance from inside the club turning the assault into a kind of counter-cultural Polish "Stonewall"? Will the stalemate continue while the conservative authorities try to use other, bureaucratic means to dislodge the club, like raising its rent sky-high? (the building housing Le Madame is owned by the city of Warsaw.) Or will the police stand idly by and let the skinhead thugs who make up the youth arm of the League of Polish Families, noted for their violent gay-bashings, do the dirty work for them, as they have in the past? “I don’t think they will dare to use police force to throw us out,“ says the club’s Szurstow, because, she believes the politicians giving them orders afraid of a reaction like the one after the Poznan gay-bashing of the March for Equality, which saw demonstrations in solidarity with the Poznan gays held in every major Polish city and a huge public outcry denouncing the breaking up of the march.

Gay activist Palucki, however, is expecting the worst. “When the truce is over,” he says, “ on Thursday things are going to get hot -- very hot.”

LATE-BREAKING UPDATE: I've just received the following e-mail from Lukasz Palucki inside Le Madame: "Tommorow morning at 10 am we have organized speciall\ conference in Le Madame to protect the club. We invite a lot of famous people: politics, actors, activists, jouranlists and others...We hope that police don't attack the club tommorow when these people will be inside."

For background on the Kaczynski regime, see the recent special report for DIRELAND by our resident expert on Poland, Prof. David Ost, "Is Poland's New President Kaczynski Another Putin, or Another Peron?" See also: "Poland: a first-hand account of an oficial gay-bashing."

Posted by Direland at 05:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 27, 2006

Letter from Rome: ITALY -- THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN'S DARK UNDERBELLY

The following is the latest in a series of special reports on Italy's impending Italy_map_2 elections by DIRELAND's Rome correspondent Judy Harris -- a veteran ex-pat journalist and former staffer in Italy for the Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine:

ROME -- ­This is the Coney Island of Italian election campaigns, a gaudy amusement park where the magic mirrors, carny barkers and roller coasters do not quite conceal the slightly ominous underbelly. It will be a relief when the two days of national general elections end April 10.

The relief will be only partial, however. Within a few weeks local elections take place Berlusconi_harsh all over Italy. As if this were not enough, the new Parliament must then elect a new president for a seven-year term. This triple-whammy coincidence has raised the stakes higher than in normal elections, and sent the rhetoric to fever pitch. Even if Premier Silvio Berlusconi¹s right-wing team flops miserably in the general elections April 9-10, -- Carlo_ciampi_ii as almost everyone except Berlusconi (right) is now predicting -- he will still have 100 or so of his faithful in the 630-member Parliament and 60 in the 315-member Senate condition the necessary two-thirds vote for a president to replace the outgoing octogenerian Presifdent Carlo Azeglio Ciampi (left).

Alessandra_musolini_2_elegant_1 Our Cupie doll for the trashiest turn of phrase passes from last month¹s winner Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the dictator, left, (for her declaration, "better Bossi_4Fascist than queer") to Berlusconi ally Umberto Bossi (right), the leader of the ultra-nationalist and racist Northern League. Bossi was, alas, sufficiently recovered from a recent stroke to make this historic pronouncement about the left alliance led by Romano Prodi, accused of being tolerance toward same-sex marriage:  "They smell of Vaseline."

Tensions came to the point that, at a meeting of the Confindustria, Italy¹s national Diego_della_valle association of manufacturers, famous shoe manufacturer Diego Della Valle (right, dubbed "the Italian Ralph Lauren") and Berlusconi exchanged insults publicly after the Premier, in his speech, accused Della Valle and other entrepreneurs who support the left of "having skeletons in their closets." Afterward a group of rightists announced Piero_fassino_2_1 they would organize a boycott of the pricy shoes made by Della Valle¹s company, Tod¹s, an Italian version of Timberland. And Pierro Fassino (left), the leader of the (ex-Communist) Party of the Democratic Left -- the largest party in the center-left opposition coalition -- then accused Berlusconi of "verbal violence and intimidation."

Berlusconi himself, no mean hand at insults, called the journalists who went on a two-day strike members of a "soviet." The strike was Prodi_3over higher wages.  And in a speech Sunday morning (yesterday) in Naples, Berlusconi described his chief opponent Prodi (left), leader of the center-left Unione coalition, as "a delusional poveraccio who thinks he matters." In this case, "poveraccio" means "poor oaf", and the working word is 'poor." For the Premier, Professor Prodi is an insignificant front man -- "a mask," Berlusconi called him -- for an array of dangerous far leftists. Just how dangerous? Well, in another rhetorical low, Berlusconi went on record in a speech in Naples saying that "the Communists don't eat babies--they boil them."

In the past Berlusconi has pointed out that he is one of the anointed of the Lord, or otherwise, despite his alleged persecution by an evil alliance of media, manufacturers, bankers, and communist judges, he would not personally be as rich and powerful as he is now. But there¹s the point: what happens to Berlusconi if he loses power in two weeks time? Forget the "Commie" magistrates (as Silvio calls them) and their on-going cases against Berlusconi: will the richest man in Italy actually lose what counts most, money? Mediaset_logo His hypothetical sobering-up after the party is increasingly under debate and a key reason for the heat. Berlusconi fears, as he has said, that the first thing Prodi will do in office is to seize the broadcasting licenses for Berlusconi-owned Mediaset networksDalema_1 (logo left) and hand them over to his friends on the left. What the Prodi crowd is expected to do is to take steps to make it easier for the three state-owned TV networks under the RAI umbrella to compete for advertising with the Berlusconi enterprises. At the moment, RAI is squeezed by concessions provided to Mediaset. "Anti-trust legislation has to begin here," says the left's ex-Premier Massimo D¹Alemma (right).

              At this point the U.S. State Department entered the fray, warning American citizens that, in the present climate in Italy, they would do well to avoid crowds and must remain on the alert for danger, reporting their suspicions to Bomb_with_use their consulates or the Italian police. Does this warning mean American tourists here for Easter are to look out for the odd black-bloc nut case? Look for a bomb? If so, whose bomb: an Italian's? or an Islamist kamikaze¹s? How look for these, when the Israelis, presumably well trained in this, can only rarely spot a kamikaze? Berlusconi slightly soft-pedaled the warning. "This hostility toward the U.S., this hatred," Silvio said, " is so strong that if a U.S. citizen found himself in the middle of a left-wing demonstration, he could not feel easy."

Also called to task was the Minister of Justice, a Berlusconi ally named Roberto Roberto_castelli_2 Castelli (left) , who spoke bluntly of a possible bombing during these coming days. However, he said, a bombing "would only help the victory" of Berlusconi¹s coalition, "and so I don¹t think it will happen." All Islam knows that the Italian left is pro-Islam, he added direly.

Predictably, the center-left candidates all rounded on Berlusconi, Castelli and the U.S., accused of outrageous interference. The most extreme view was that the State Department warning signaled a revival of the notorious "strategy of tensions" 1970s-style, by which the extreme right promotes turbulence in order to justify a crack-down.    [for a 1975 description of the "strategy of tensions" by Pier Paolo Pasolini in his Coriere della Serra column, click here.] But Prodi's colorless style is to remain calm, and so he limited himself to being annoyed and suggesting that the warning was probably piloted by Berlusconi himself.

To this an irate Berlusconi (right) replied, "I think that the U.S. government should be free to Berlusconi_odd_scowl_2 tell its citizens to take care during an election period when there are strong counter-positions. It¹s only natural that the U.S. says to stay away. And if Prodi thinks that the State Deprtment note is interference, I think exactly the opposite. Prodi's comments are an improper interference in the interests of another state."

The question remains: what is going on? Is there serious reason for Americans and, for that matter, for Italians to be nervous in these final days?

Just possibly. A Europol report, made public this weekend by police in Brussels, warns that three hundred radical Islamic activists, most of whom hold European passports, have secretly entered European countries. In an obviously related capillary sweep all over Italy this weekend, police hauled in several hundred suspects, arrested at least four and deported 20. Lastly, newspapers have been running full-page articles of reassurance detailing the sophistication of the brand new TV security system operating on Italian subways. Since its installation in November, say police, theJudy_hareris_11
number of pickpocket attacks in Rome alone have been halved. Subway security, Europol warnings, arrests of unnamed Islamic militants, and extremist rhetoric from the ruling government coalition is the slightly spooky underbelly of a nervous count-down to election day.

But money talks -- and billionaire Berlusconi has just sent to 11 million Italian households a luxurious 160-page magazine -- lavishly illustrated with hundreds of photos of himself, his family, and with celebrities -- vaunting his record as premier since 2001. -- by Judy Harris (right) in Rome

Read Judy Harris's previous LETTERS FROM ROME for DIRELAND: October 1, 2005, "Italy--The Church Re-Enters Politics." July 22, 2005-- Judges On Strike Against Berlusconi; June 13, 2005 -- Italy's Referendum a Fiasco; June 11, 2005 -- Italy's Referendum: It's Really About Abortion....AND JUDY'S OTHER SPECIAL ELECTION REPORTS: March 6, 2006 -- Will Berlusconi Lose?; March 9, 2006: Italian Elections: What a Difference a Week Makes; March 12, 2006 -- Italy's Bizarre Election Campaign: Silvio's Spies and Cartoon Fairy Tale Videos; March 14, 2006 -- The Berlusconi-Prodi TV Debate; March 15, 2006-- After the Debate

Posted by Direland at 03:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 25, 2006

THE POPE'S NEW GRAND INQUISITOR

William_levada As I read the list of new cardinals named yesterday by Pope Ratzinger (a.k.a. Benedict XVI), it struck me that this was the same-old, same-old -- another roster of doctrinal conservatives to reinforce the hard-right line on sex and "morality" in a College of Cardinals already stacked with arch-conservatives by his predecessor, Wojtyla. This is especially true of the man who now becomes the most important American in the Vatican, San Francisco Inquisition_by_goya Archbishop William Levada (above left), who takes over The Rat's old job as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Office of the Inquisition, the Vatican's ideological enforcer.) Photo right, Goya's painting, ' The Inquisition Tribunal'

But, while I try to keep an eye on Vatican politics, I don't pretend to be an expert -- so I asked a progressive friend of mine who is the veteran Vatican correspondent for one of the most prestigious European television networks, whose judgment I trust in such matters, for his opinion. Here's what he told me in an e-mail:

"There are no liberals or reformers among this bunch. The three over eighties can be disregarded. Of the remainder by far the most interesting is the Chinese from Hong Kong. This is a delicate political and diplomatic appointment, a prepositioning of the church before the expected gesture from Beijing sometime before the Games offering to reopen official relations with the Holy See. On matters sexual/moral there is to be no letup.  As far as the guy from SF is concerned he is an old buddy of Benedict having worked for twelve years in his  departments and is seen as completely trustworthy to carry on the Ratzinger line across the road in the Holy Office."

In fact, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors took the unusual step on Tuesday of William_levada_2 unanimously passing a resolution unanimously condemning the appointment of Levada, so reactionary is he, saying, "Cardinal Levada (right) is a decidedly unqualified representative of his former home city, and of the people of San Francisco and the values they hold dear." The resolution was motivated by Levada's militant opposition to the right of same-sex couples to adopt, and the Board of Supervisors' resolution went on to say that, "It is an insult to all San Franciscans when a foreign country, like the Vatican, meddles with and attempts to negatively influence this great city's existing and established customs and traditions, such as the right of same-sex couples to adopt and care for children in need."

The resolution blasted the teaching of the Catholic Church that homosexual adoption does "violence" to children as "hateful and discriminatory rhetoric (that) is both insulting and callous, and shows a level of insensitivity and ignorance which has seldom been encountered by this Board of Supervisors.''

Inquisition_the_wheel When Ratzinger (right) came to the U.S. prior to the Ratzinger_ii_1 2004 elections to rev up the Catholic Bishops to help make gay marriage a prime issue in that year's presidential campaign and deny the sacraments of the mass to those candidates for public office who favored it, or who believed in a woman's right to an abortion, the Rat's first stop was to see his old pal Levada in San Francisco. (Left, a torture victim of the 16th Century Spanish Inquisition)

Count on Levada to keep this closet-case Pope's vicious anti-gay agenda at the forefront of the Vatican's doctrinal exigencies.

For a bracing antidote to ultramontane Papacy, see Michel Onfray's brilliant Meslier_1 essay in the latest issue of New Politics on the 17th century atheist French priest Jean Meslier (right), who presented the first coherent atheist philosphy -- you can read it by clicking here. You can also read my accompanying introduction to Onfray's scintillating synthesis of Meslier's thought.

Posted by Direland at 08:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 24, 2006

DIRELAND on AIR AMERICA Tonight

Air_america_logo I'll be discussing my article, "Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays," tonight at approximately 10:30 PM EST, on AIR AMERICA's "Mike Molloy Show" (guest-hosted tonight by Peter Werbe.) If you're not sure where on your radio dial to find AIR AMERICA, you can find a guide to which local stations carry it on Air America's website -- or you can listen live on the Internet by clicking here.

Posted by Direland at 04:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 22, 2006

SHIA DEATH SQUADS TARGET IRAQI GAYS -- U.S. Indifferent

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

Ayatollah_sistani_clear Following a death-to-gays fatwa issued last October by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (left), death squads of the Badr Corps have been systematically targeting gay Iraqis for persecution and execution, gay Iraqis say. But when they ask for help and protection from U.S. occupying authorities in the “Green Zone,” gay Iraqis are met with indifference and derision.

“The Badr Corps is committed to the ‘sexual cleansing’ of Iraq,“ says Ali Hili, a 33-year-old gay Iraqi exile in London who, with some 30 other gay Iraqis who have fled to the United Kingdom, five months ago founded the Abu Nawas Group there to support persecuted gay Iraqis (Abu Nawas -- right --Abu_nawas was a great 8th century classical poet of Arab and Persian descent who is known throughout Middle East cultures, and is famous for his poems in praise of same-sex love.)

Said Hili, “We believe that the Badr Corps is receiving advice from Iran on how to target gay people.” In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been carrying out a lethal anti-gay pogrom against Iranian gays, notably through entrapment by Internet -- and this tactic has recently begun to be used by the Badr Corps in Iraq to identify and hunt down Iraqi gays.

Sciri_logo The well-armed Badr Corps is the military arm of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the powerful Shia group that is the largest political formation in Iraq’s Shia community, which was headquartered in Tehran until Saddam Hussein‘s fall. The SCIRI’s Badr Corps is trained and commanded by former Iraqi army officers. (Left, the SCIRI logo.)

The Ayatollah Sistani, the 77-year-old Iranian-born cleric who is the supreme Shia authority in Iraq, is revered by SCIRI as its spiritual leader. His anti-gay fatwa (available on Sistani’s official website) says that “people involved” in homosexuality “should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.”

Speaking by telephone from London, the Abu Nawas Group's Hili said that “there is a very, very serious threat to life for gay people in Iraq today. We are receiving regular reports from our extensive network of contacts with underground gay activists and gay people in Iraq -- intimidation, beatings, kidnappings and murders of gays have become an almost daily occurrence. The Badr Corps was killing gay people even before the Ayatollah’s fatwah, but Sistani’s murderous homophobic incitement has given a green light to all Shia Muslims to hunt and kill lesbians and gay men.”

Hili says,”Badr Corps agents have a network of informers who, among other things, target alleged 'immoral behavior'. They kill gays, unveiled women, prostitutes, people who sell or drink alcohol, and those who listen to western music and wear western fashions.

"Badr militants are entrapping gay men via internet chat rooms. They arrange a date, and then beat and kill the victim. Males who are unmarried by the age of 30 or 35 are placed under surveillance on suspicion of being gay, as are effeminate men. They will be investigated and warned to get married. Badr will typically give them a month to change their ways. If they don't change their behavior, or if they fail to show evidence that they plan to get married, they will be arrested, disappear and eventually be found dead. The bodies are usually discovered with their hands bound behind their back, blindfolds over their eyes, and bullet wounds to the back of the head.”

Baghdad Tahseen is an underground gay activist in Iraq, and a correspondent there for the British Abu Nawas Group. A 31-year-old photography lab technician, Tahseen told me by telephone from Baghdad this weekend that, “Just last week, four gay people we know of were found dead. I am afraid to leave my room and go out in the street because I will be killed. We all live in fear.“ Tahseen said that men who seem obviously gay “cannot walk in the street. My best friend was recently killed for being gay.”

Tahseen confirmed the murderous efficiency of the Badr Corps’ Internet entrapment program. “Within one hour after they meet a gay person in an Internet chat room, that person will disappear and be found dead,” he said, adding that “since Sistani’s fatwa, the life of a gay person is worth nothing here, and the violence and killings have gotten much, much worse.”

Tahseen lives in a Baghdad apartment with his two brothers. “Right now, I have five gay men hiding in my room in fear of their lives, because they cannot go outside without risking being killed,” he said, with anguish audible in his voice. “They are all listening to me as I speak with you.” All those hiding with Tahseen are in their late twenties or early thirties, and by their mannerisms would be easily identified as gay by most Iraqis. I spoke briefly with one of them, who expressed his fear in a soft, shy voice.

One of those being given refuge by Tahseen is Bashar, a 34-year-old stage actor, who was forced to go into hiding after receiving death threats against him and his family. Before he went underground, his house was raided several times by the Badr Corps. Fortunately, he was not at home, otherwise he fears he would have been kidnapped and killed.

“We desperately need protection!” pleaded Tahseen. “But, when we go to the Americans, they laugh at us and don’t do anything. The Americans are the problem!” The Abu Nawas Group’s Hili confirmed from London that representations to officials of the U.S. occupation in Baghdad’s famous “Green Zone” had been made by underground gay activists, only to be met with disdain and indifference.

Hili, who has a bachelor’s degree in English literature, and who used to work for Iraqi radio and television, fled to the U.K. in 2002 after having been persecuted for being Palestine_hotel gay under Saddam Hussein. “In the late ‘80s and early 90s there were a couple of gay clubs in Baghdad, but they were all shut down in 1993 after sanctions were imposed against Saddam’s regime and Iraq. We had a weekly gay nightclub in the Palestine Hotel (right) that became the gathering place for gay people, especially for actors and others in the entertainment world, but it, too, was shut down. I was arrested three times for being gay, and tortured. After several attempts, I finally was able to escape the country, going first to Dubai, then Jordan, then Syria, and finally reaching England.” Now, Hili says, he is heartbroken to see that, three years after Saddam’s fall, life for gay people in Iraq is even more unbearable than before.

“Just last night I spoke via Internet with a young gay man in his mid-20s who was caught by SCIRI agents. He had no identification with him -- gay people are afraid to carry their I.D.s when they go in the street in case they are caught,” because both the police and the Badr Corps agents would inform their families and add them to a list of known homosexuals, which would be used later to target them for killing.. “This young man had his left arm broken by the SCIRI thugs -- I saw this with my own eyes via Internet camera,” Hili said.

Hili said the Abu Nawas Group is accumulating evidence that Iranian agents are advising SCIRI and the Iraqi police on how to implement anti-gay persecution. Not only has Iran’s Internet entrapment campaign targeting gays been adopted in Iraq, he says, but there are reports that Iranian agents have been involved in interrogations, questioning those arrested in Persian through translators. “This is particularly true in Basra in the south,” Hili says.

Hili provided information on the cases of several gay victims of the Badr Corps, but said, “"These killings are just the ones we have been able to get details about. They are the tip of an iceberg of religious-motivated executions. Gay Iraqis are living in fear of discovery and murder." The victims include:

Haydar_faiek Haydar Faiek (left), aged 40, a transsexual Iraqi, was beaten and burned to death by Badr militias in the main street in the Al-Karada district of Baghdad in September 2005. Ammar

Ammar (right), aged 27, was abducted and shot in back of the head in Baghdad by suspected Badr militias in January 2006.

Naffeh, aged 45, disappeared in August 2005. His family were informed that he was kidnapped by the Badr organisation. His body was found in January 2006. He, too, had been subjected to an execution-style killing.

Sarmad and Khalid were partners who lived in the Al-Jameha area of Baghdad. Persons unknown revealed their same-sex relationship. They were abducted by the Badr organisation in April 2005. Their bodies were found two months later, in June, bound, blindfolded and shot in the back of the head.

Abdel_mahdi The al-Arabiya TV network reported this weekend that a backroom deal had been reached to nominate Abdel Mahdi (left), a leading SCIRI figure and currently Iraq’s vice president, to be the new Iraqi prime minister (the accord is said to have been reached by representatives of SCIRI, the Kurdish list, and the Sunni Iraqi Concord Front.)

There is great fear that the Badr Corps-SCIRI campaign against gay people will become official Iraqi policy, especially if the report that a top SCIRI politican may Zalmay_khalilzad become the new prime minister turns out to be true. Under the Iraqi Constitution -- virtually written by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad (right) and his associates -- Sharia law, which mandates death for homosexuals, is the foundation of all Iraqi law. Reuters reported last August 20th, under the headline, “U.S. Concedes Ground to Islamists on Iraqi Law,” that the U.S. brokered a deal “making Islam 'the,' not 'a,' main source of law -- changing current wording -- and subjecting all legislation to a religious test.” Reuters quoted a leading Kurdish politician as saying at that time, “'We [are given to] understand the Americans have sided with the Shi'ites," he said. "It's shocking. It doesn't fit American values. They have spent so much blood and money here, only to back the creation of an Islamist state ... I can't believe that's what the Americans really want or what the American people want.'"

Abu_nawas_logo_1 If you would like to help support gay Iraqis, the Abu Nawas Group (logo left) desperately needs money to expand its work on their behalf. The Abu Nawas Group works closely with the British gay rights group OutRage! -- so, if you'd like to make a donation to the Abu Nawas Group, checks should be made payable to "OutRage!", with a cover note stating it is a donation for "Abu Nawas Iraqi LGBT - UK". and mailed to: OutRage!, PO Box 17816, London SW14 8WT, England, UK.

Ali Hili of the Abu Nawas Group and myself will appear tomorrow (Thursday) morning on the Democracy Now! radio-and-TV broadcast between 8:00 AM and 9:00 AM EST, to discuss the issues raised in the above article. If you miss the broadcast live, you can listen to it or watch it via Internet on the Democracy Now! website (where it will be archived immediately after broadcast) by clicking here.

For background on the lethal anti-gay pogrom in Iran that has now been imported into Iraq, see my previous articles: July 21, 2005 -- 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; November 24, "Save Us"-- A Gay Iranian Who Married His Partner Begs for Help from the West ; January 12, 2006 -- "Kidnapped: Another Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks".....January 27, 2006 -- "A Call to Solidarity: U.S. Gay Groups Must End Their Isolationism; February 8, 2006 -- "An Iranian Trans Torture Victim Speaks from Inside Iran."  March 3, "Dutch to End Freeze on Deportation of Gay Iranians"; March 4, "Commotion in Dutch Parliament Over Deportation of Gay Iranians."; March 16, "England: Another Gay Iranian Faces Deportation"; Also, don't miss Rob Anderson's excellent article in the November 10, 2005 New Republic, "How America's Gay Rights Establishment is Failing Gay Iranians."

Posted by Direland at 07:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

DIRELAND ON 'DEMOCRACY NOW' TOMORROW

Yours truly (photo right) will be on "Democracy Now," the national radio-and-TV news program hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, tomorrow morning (Thursday) in the 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM segment. I willDoug_3 be discussing my new article in tomorrow's Gay City News,"Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays," as well as the lethal anti-gay pogrom in Iran -- and they've also asked me to discuss the current crisis in France over the conservative government's new retrograde labor law that has put a million students and workers into the streets and threatens to provoke a general strike. My segment will follow an interview with Ali Hili, head of a  London-based group of Iraqi gays in exile, who is extensively quoted in my  GCN article, which will be posted later today on DIRELAND, Check the "Democracy Now" website for local stations and listings -- or you can listen to the broadcast live on the Internet at that website by clicking here.. And if you miss the broadcast, it will be archived on that website within 24
hours. -- D.I.

Posted by Direland at 02:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 21, 2006

YET ANOTHER GAY IRANIAN FACES DEPORTATION FROM ENGLAND TO IRAN

U.K. Gay News reports today that yet another young gay Iraniian is living under threat of Iran_noose_13 deportation from the United Kingdom back to Iran, where he would face immediate arrest by the police, and quite possibly execution, for being gay. Today's report follows the March 16 DIRELAND report on Mehdi, a 26-year-old gay Iranian who faces a deportation hearing in the U.K. on March 28.  Two gay Iranian exiles in the U.K. committed suicide in the last two years when they were ordered deported back to Iran, in fear of the torture and execution they knew they would face there at the hands of the authoritarian religious government.

The young man in this new report, called Ramin in the UK Gay News article for security reasons, and now in his mid-twenties, was a college student and visitng at his boyfriend's apartment four years go when plainclothes basiji -- the religious para-police used by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to enforce its lethal anti-gay morality campaign -- raided it. They knew Ramin was gay. The basiji "are the worst kind of police,” Ramin told UKGN.  “I was so scared, and knew I had to do something very fast.”

"Ramin literally fled for his life, escaping over the rooftops and going to a sympathetic uncle. He could not go to his immediate family.  'They might have tried to kill me if they knew I was gay,' he admitted. One of the problems was that, as is traditional in Iran, Ramin had become engaged at birth to an Iranian girl – a distant relative – who was born on the same day. 'We were exactly the same age, we grew up together, went to the same school – she was my best friend.  As I gay man, I didn’t want to let her down.'

"Ramin journeyed secretly to the north west of Iran and then set off on a 3-day hike over the mountains and across the border into Turkey. 'I knew that I could not stay in Turkey as there is homophobia there as well,' he said.  So he traveled to Istanbul where he planned his escape into a European Union country. He stowed away with three others on a lorry carrying farm machinery, the driver not knowing of their presence.  And for three long days he endured a journey to an unknown destination. It was winter.  It was cold.

"'I asked myself at the time if it was all worth it,' he said.  'There was one period on the journey when I went about 18 hours without food or water – and it was so cold.'After three days, the lorry reached its destination.  Ramin got off and found himself in Dover.  He was spotted by a security guard and hand over to the British authorities.

"He was treated well by British immigration, he said.  'I did not speak English then.  Through an interpreter, I applied for political asylum. 'They were very friendly and I was sent to a hostel for a good night’s sleep – and some food,' he said.  'And in the hostel, I was treated very well.'

"Ramin was allowed to stay in the short term.  After two months, he was called to the Home Office immigration facility in Croydon. 'Although it was very busy there, they did try to help me,' he recalled.  “I was interviewed and asked how I managed to get out of Iran and to England. 'It was at this interview I told them I was gay.' The interviewing officer was a Muslim woman.  'She told me that there was not enough evidence,' Ramin said. 'She just didn’t believe me – there is not enough evidence,' he repeated. He was expecting the worse.  And sure enough a letter from the Home Office arrived.  It refused him asylum.

Then came the appeal procedure.  And Ramin was allocated a solicitor who he said 'was not very good I was not even told that I had a tribunal appeal, so I missed that.  And when I questioned the solicitor, I was told that they were sorry, but they forgot to tell me.'

A year after his arrival in the United Kingdom came Ramin’s one and only day in court. 'Again, I was disappointed with my legal representation.  It was as though they had little time for my case,' he said.

"In an ironic twist to Ramin’s story, he got involved with an Iranian Christian organisation. 'They told me that I could be cured of being gay and they promised me that if I went along with them, I would be able to stay in England,' he said.

"He admitted that he was confused.  “I was desperate for help,” he said. 'Even this Christian group failed to turn up in court.' The judge postponed the court hearing for a month.  But when the case was resumed, there was no help for Ramin.  The judge found for the Home Office and not long after came the letter saying he was going to be deported. Up to then, Ramin had not made contact with the gay community.  But he then started getting contacts. 'To be honest, I thought that I would be let down by them as well,' he said.

"Ramin was proved to be wrong.  Two years ago, he met “Bill” – again, not his real name.  It was not long before the couple became partners. Through the gay community, Ramin met an immigration advisor.  The result now is that his case is “under investigation”. Even so, Ramin fears a knock on the door – or a letter arriving. 'I love my country, but not the political system,' he said.  “If there wasn’t a problem of me being gay, I would never have left.'

"He is well aware of reports from Iran in the past year of hangings of gays in Iran. 'Yes, it goes on,” he insisted.  “The religious courts do execute men and women because they are gay.  The basiji see to that.' For now, Ramin and Bill live together happily in suburbia, and are about to celebrate two years together as partners. That, they both consider, should be enough evidence for the Home Office." You can read the entire U.K. Gay News article on Ramin by clicking here.

For background on the new wave of anti-gay repression in Iran, see my previous articles: July 21, 2005 -- 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 4, Shocking New Photo Released of Hanging of Gay Teens in Iran; October 6 -- Canada Introduces UN Resolution Condemning Iran's Human Rights Record; November 24, "Save Us"-- A Gay Iranian Who Married His Partner Begs for Help from the West ; January 12, 2006 -- "Kidnapped: Another Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks".....January 27, 2006 -- "A Call to Solidarity: U.S. Gay Groups Must End Their Isolationism; February 8, 2006 -- "An Iranian Trans Torture Victim Speaks from Inside Iran."  February 9, Stop the Deportation of Saba Rawi; March 3, "Dutch to End Freeze on Deportation of Gay Iranians"; March 4, "Commotion in Dutch Parliament Over Deportation of Gay Iranians."; March 16, "England: Another Gay Iranian Faces Deportation"; Also, don't miss Rob Anderson's excellent article in the November 10, 2005 New Republic, "How America's Gay Rights Establishment is Failing Gay Iranians."

Posted by Direland at 07:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 17, 2006

"SEXUAL CLEANSING" CONTINUES IN NEPAL, 26 NEW ARRESTS

The Nepalese government's violent campaign of "sexual cleansing" directed at the Hrw_logo_3 country's metis, or transgendered, as well as gay people, continues unabated, Human Rights Watch reported today. HRW said in a statement today:

"On the night of March 14, the eve of the Holi festival (festival of colors) – a major Hindu religious holiday – police in the Thamel and Durbar Marg areas of Metis_protest_2 athmandu rounded up 26 metis," said HRW in a statement. "According to the Blue Diamond Society, a Nepali non-governmental organization (NGO) working in the fields of sexual rights, sexual health and HIV prevention, they were taken to the Hanuman Dhoka central police station in

Kathmandu

. Five were later moved to Kalimati police station. Human Rights Watch understands that as of March 16, they have still not been permitted to speak to a lawyer. All have reportedly been charged with committing a 'public nuisance.' No further particulars of their alleged offence are known." (Left, Nepalese metis protest the arrest of 39 Blue Diamond Society members last August; note the sign saying, "Either kill us or let us live free")

“This is the latest incident in a violent police campaign to ‘cleanse’

Kathmandu

of those considered undesirable,” said

Scott Long

, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Police regularly assault and in some cases sexually abuse transgender people, all in the name of enforcing ‘moral values.’”

Those arrested included two staff, two outreach workers, and two peer educators working for the Blue Diamond Society. The Blue Diamond Society has repeatedly documented police abuse of transgender people, also known as hijras. In other recent incidents, on January 3, three metis walking in the Thamel district were reportedly severely beaten by four uniformed policemen who shouted, “Metis! Kill them!” The police threatened that “these hijras pollute the society and must be cleaned out.” On December 28, police arrested a meti, took her to the Shore Khutte police station, and forcibly stripped and mocked her while checking her genitals. They also allegedly threatened to cut her hair off as punishment for wearing women’s clothes. She was released the next day. For more information the Nepalese "sexual cleansing" campaign,"out the Blue Diamond Society website.

Posted by Direland at 12:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 16, 2006

ENGLAND: ANOTHER GAY IRANIAN FACES DEPORTATION

Iran_noose_12 Medhi is a 26-year-old gay Iranian who fled Iran to escape persecution. While doing his military service, Mehdi was discovered having sex with another soldier. After being smuggled from Iran into Turkey by donkey, he eventually made his way to England, where his application for asylum as a sexual refugee from Iran's lethal anti-gay pogrom was denied, and is now facing deportation proceedings on March 28. If he is deported, Mehdi is under explicit threat of arrest and probable execution in Iran.

Within the last year, two gay Iranians in the U.K. have committed suicide as they faced deportation back to Iran, in fear of unspeakable torture and likely execution. And there are a number of other gay Iranians currently in the U.K. whose asylum appeals have been denied by the Blair government, and who are living in fear of receiving deportation orders any day.

Mehdi has told his story to the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO) -- thePglo_logo_6  largest Iranian gay group, which has secretariats in a number of countries, including Turkey. Mehdi's story is a heart-breaking one -- he relates the difficulties of growing up gay in Iran; his rejection by his family, which broke up his amorous relationship with a neighbor's son; his pursuit by government security agents; and his long and arduous journey to the West. Now, Mehdi says, "If I was to return to Iran, straight away they would arrest me, it is obvious that I would be executed because under Islamic law I have committed a sin...When [government security agents] came to my father's house [to look for me] they told him that is what I have done and that this would be my punishment." You can read Mehdi's first-hand story on the PGLO's website by clicking here. 

RELATED READING: See my article in Gay City News, out today, on the lessons for the gay movement in the March 8 government assault in Tehran on feminists who were demonstrating for women's rights on International Women's Day. You can read my GCN article by clicking here. ....And for a round-up article summarizing Iran's lethal anti-gay pogrom, see my recent article in the magazine In These Times......In connection with this coming Saturday's student Iran Freedom Concerts initiated by Harvard students (with other concerts at a half-dozen universities across the country), there's an opinion piece in today's Harvard Crimson by two students entitled "Support Reformers in Iran."....

Posted by Direland at 03:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack