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April 26, 2006

IRAN HACKS WEB SITES TO BURY ANTI-GAY POGROM (Updated)

The following is an expanded version of an article I wrote for this week's Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly -- which hits the newsstands tomorrow:

Websites of gay Iranian organizations and of groups that support and advocate for gay Iranians were sabotaged and driven off-line last week by hackers for the Tehran regime, and are still off-line. The goal of the hack attack was to bury news of, and stifle protest about, the Islamic Republic of Iran's massive anti-gay pogrom. Among those sites shut down is the multilingual website of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization -- PGLO, Iran’s largest gay group, with 29,000 Pglo_logo_7 people on its e-mail list and secretariats in four countries. The PGLO website has sections in Persian, English, French, and German, and contains a raft of documentation of the horrors the Islamic Republic of Iran is perpetrating against its gay citizens, including photos of its torture victims and their wounds. The website also includes access to a monthly gay magazine in Persian, Cheragh, and Persian-language streaming radio web-casts aimed at Iranian gays.

The PGLO’s website has been replaced by a page from a non-political commercial gay shopping service; in the upper-right hand corner of the home page displayed instead of the PGLO’s, one reads: “This domain is parked, pending renewal, or has expired.” The hack attack has completely disrupted the PGLO’s communications, since the group’s officers and key activists all have e-mail addresses that functionArsham_parsi_1  through their website, and depend on the Internet to communicate with gay Iranians inside and outside Iran. Reached by telephone in Turkey, PGLO human rights secretary Arsham Parsi (right) said they were working to repair the site and hope to be back online soon.

Also sabotaged at the beginning of last week and driven off-line was the website of the militant British gay rights group OutRage, which has been prominent in mobilizing global protest against Iran’s reign of terror against gay people -- and which had just announced that it was about to release an important new report on Iran’s lethal anti-gay pogrom. This carefully documented and footnoted report, written for OutRage by Simon Forbes after a nine-month investigation, is based on public and press reports, official documents, interviews, and translations from the Persian; the reporting of Gay City News on the repression of gays in Iran is cited at several points in the report.

Among the report’s conclusions:

“The Iranian dictatorship now realises it is not good PR to execute people for merely being gay. That risks an international outcry. To pre-empt condemnation, the Iranians now craftily pin on same-sex lovers additional charges involving pedophilia, violence and rape. It is a clever tactic that has hook-winked even some human rights groups…The regime clearly does not want its people to view same-sex relations as something Iran_new_photo_mahmoud_ayaz a respectable person might engage in with consent. That could present Lavaat [the Persian word for sodomy] as something desirable and positive, and this might encourage tolerance – and even curiosity and experimentation. The clerical regime wants to depict sodomy in the worst possible light to deter and discourage its practice. To do this, it needs to present gay and lesbian people as repellent, dangerous individuals. In these circumstances, the mere charge of Lavaat is not sufficient. To prompt revulsion and support for executions, homosexuality needs to be associated in the public mind with violence and child abuse….” (Above, a photo -- previously unpublished in the U.S. -- of Mahmoud and Ayaz, the two teenage lovers hanged last July in the public square of Mashad, Iran, for their homosexuality)

To get around the hack attack, the first part of the OutRage report on Iran has been posted on the Peter_tatchell_1 personal website of OutRage founder Peter Tatchell (left), and you can read it by clicking here.Tatchell said that this “is the first document in a series of documents that will be published by OutRage! in the coming weeks and months. These documents expose the state-sanctioned torture and murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people by the Iranian clerical regime. Mr. Forbes's pioneering investigation is based on information from credible, verified sources inside Iran. It provides clear evidence of homophobic honor killings, arrests, torture and executions.”

Websites of other exile Iranian groups critical of the Tehran regime’s human rights record have also been sabotaged, including Iran Focus and the website of the U.K.’s Ahwazi Friendship Society (which advocates for the 4.5 Ahwazi Arabs who live in a formerly autonomous region in Southwest Iran.)

Iran has a long history of Internet censorship, including the blocking, filtering, and sabotage of websites. Decisions on which websites should be targeted for government action are made by a secret five-member committee in Iran’s Ministry of Communication. This committee is dominated by officers from the Ministry of Intelligence and by members from the Organization for Islamic Culture and Ayatollah_ali_khomeini_2 Communication, an ultra-conservative religious group which is mostly funded by the office of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Supreme Leader, a constitutionally-established post currently held since 1989 by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right), successor to the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Supreme Leader is the highest-ranking political authority in the nation.

John_palfrey According to John Palfrey (left), executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, “Iran has put in place one of the world's most extensive and sophisticated Internet censorship regimes. Along with China, Iran has committed to adapting its filtering practices with changes in Internet technology, which suggests that the cat and mouse game between those who would speak freely and those who would stop them is bound to continue. Bloggers who write in Persian in Iran have a much harder job today in trying to reach their audience than bloggers in most other parts of the world."

Last June, the Harvard University-based OpenNet Initiative (ONI) released "Internet Filtering in Iran," a report that documents the degree and extent to which the Iranian government controls the information environment in which its citizens live, including websites, blogs, email, and online discussion forums. This report indicated that websites, blogs, and e-mails with gay and lesbian content accounted for a major part of government censorship and interference.

According to Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based advocacy organization for freedom of the press, “Privately-owned ISPs [Internet Service Providers] began to develop timidly in Iran in 1994, in the shadow of the big state-run ISP, Data Communication Company of Iran (DCI), which is directly controlled by the Intelligence Ministry. They have to be approved by both this ministry and the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry and must have filters for websites and personal e-mail. All users are required to promise in writing not to access ‘non-Islamic’ sites,” under threat of imprisonment. That ukase includes interdiction of access to websites for or about lesbians and gays. Reporters Without Borders has also named Supreme Leader Ali Khameini as one of the globe’s 16 “Predators of Press Freedom,” defined as those who “have the power to censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and, in the worst cases, murder journalists.”

UPDATE WEDNESDAY NIGHT 11:00 PM EST-- PGLO WEBSITE BACK ON-LINE I have just received word that the PGLO has succeeded in getting its website back on-line, but at a new Internet address, at http://www.pglo.net/ ; at this hour, however, the OutRage website is still down.

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 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"; April 20, "Dutch Deportations of Gay Iranians on Hold"; 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."

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