August 19, 2006


I wrote the following article for The Advocate -- the national U.S. gay and lesbian weekly -- which published it today (a complete list of my reports on Iran, including six other interviews with Iranian gay and lesbian torture victims, can be found at the end of this post). :

Iran_map_2 Maryam knew she was a lesbian from an early age, but in Iran, being gay is punishable by death. Facing far more than parental disapproval, she was kicked out of school, fired from a job, imprisoned, and tortured, all in an unsuccessful effort to change her sexual orientation. Finally, she escaped to France, where her asylum request was still pending at press time.

In this interview, a lesbian victim of torture in the Islamic Republic of Iran speaks on the record for the first time about the horrors she suffered at the hands of a regime that has made homosexuality illegal and punishable by death. Maryam, 25, was expelled from school, forcibly hospitalized, arrested, and tortured for being a lesbian before finally escaping Iran. She eventually wound up in France, where she currently lives in an internment camp. Although she's filed an application for asylum as a sexual refugee, given the conservative French government’s new crackdown on illegal immigrants, Maryam could be deported back to Iran at any moment. “I don’t know what I will do if the French government sends me back to where my execution pillar is awaiting me!” she says. Doug Ireland spoke to her by phone, aided by a Persian translator, from Paris, where she had traveled for a day to file documents for her asylum request. Here, in her own words, is Maryam’s story:

“I was born in 1981, a child of the Islamic Republic. When I was 16 and in high school (I studied literature and science), I had a classmate named Azi who later became my Female_silhouette_2 girlfriend. We were always together. She would lay her head on my shoulders, touching my hands and my body. With these tender acts the love grew between us. We later shared our feelings and emotions, until it was unbearable for us to separate from each other. The only pleasurable time we had was in school, because we couldn’t see each other anywhere else. Our dream was to rent an apartment and live together.

“One day Azi and I were studying for final exams in her house, and we felt enormousIran_noose_ii_8  desire for each other. We forgot that the house door was unlocked. Azi’s parents came in unexpectedly and found us naked in each other’s arms. The first thing they did was to inform my mother, then the school authorities. My mother was furious and told me, ‘You brought me shame and disgrace. Why don’t you wait to find a good husband and marry? Why are doing such blasphemy?’

“The school authorities gave us a very hard time. They interrogated us and accused us of an illegitimate act against Islamic laws, against Sharia law. Then they expelled us. We each received an official letter from the Ministry of Education in Tehran indicating that because of our unlawful act against Sharia law, we were prohibited from being registered in any other school in the country.

“Azi and I were jobless for one year. We couldn’t even register at night schools. After a year I found a secretarial job in a commercial company. Later, I recommended Azi for work at the same company. Now we were together again.

Female_silhouette_1_1 “One day we went to the restroom together, kissing each other in a secluded place, unaware that we were seen by someone who reported us to the company’s ‘Office of Guiding’ [run under clerical supervision]. Azi was so afraid she resigned her job immediately, but I stood strongly on my feet and answered their questions. They accused me of having psychological problems and said that my behavior with Azi was a sign of a mental disturbance or insanity. They gave me a three-month leave of absence to be under the treatment of doctors. They ordered me to be hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic for two weeks. Each night I had to take a handful of tiny pills, and then I would become unconscious, and wasn’t able to recognize anything around me! After a while they convinced me that I was sick and had psychological problems.

“Months passed, and I went back to work. But I felt worse—the hospitalization had made me crazy. Finally, a sympathetic doctor diagnosed that I’m homosexual and told me that I don’t have any mental health problems. He emphasized that I should return home immediately, but the Office of Guiding did not agreed with his diagnosis.

“At work, one of the officials of the Office of Guiding asked me, ‘Do you see any changes in you?’ I answered, ‘No, I’m the same one as I’ve been before.’ He said, ‘Don’t you want to be a real human like others?‘ I said, ‘I was a real human before!’

“I was fired the same day. When I left work, two men came out of a car and politely asked, ‘May we talk to you for a moment?’ ‘Sure,’ I said. They led me to the car, in which were sitting two more men. They blindfolded me, and I was driven in the car for 45 minutes. They took me to an old building, leading me by taking my sleeves (because they shouldn’t touch my body), then they took me to a room and took off the blindfold. I opened my eyes—now I could see the two men, who were aged 40 to 50.

“‘I must know who you are!’ I said. But instead of answering, they cursed me and spat in my face and said, ‘You’re a filthy, disgraced, shameless pagan.’ Through the door, I could hear men screaming who were under torture.

“One of the men burned my legs with a cigarette. I screamed, and they cursed me. I spent four days in this prison in a dark room with a single bed and cockroaches. They took me to the bathroom only once a day and did not allow me to call my mother. During the four days they tried to ‘treat’ my ‘sickness’ with verses of the Koran. I was hopeless and in despair. I was only 19. After four days they forced me to confess: They dictated to me a statement saying I’d committed a blasphemy and wouldn’t do it anymore. I was so afraid, I signed it. Then I was released but remained under police supervision.

“They took my file to the health branch of the University of Shahid Beheshti and assigned me to two women psychologists who ‘treated’ me for six months. They tried to convince me that I was falsely inculcating myself with the notion that my attraction is only to females. At the end of this ‘treatment,’ they offered to change my sexuality through surgery, and later ordered me to have it. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m Maryam, a girl, and I do not want to be a man!' The female doctor told me, ‘If you don’t change your sexuality and you continue unlawful acts, your future will be a death sentence.’

“Six more months passed, and I was still under the control and supervision of the Ministry of Intelligence. I lost my desire to continue living, as life had no meaning to me anymore, and I wanted to commit suicide, because I had no hope. I was rejected and banished from society. I took a handful of tranquilizers to end my life. I was almost unconscious when I heard my mother’s screaming, while she took me to the hospital. After my mother saved me, I decided to leave the country. I found a smuggler who helped me to go to Turkey.

“I had been saving my money since I had worked in that business company. My mother also helped me financially. I was 21 years old when I left the country by bus two years ago. After two days I was in Turkey. The smugglers stole my passport. From Turkey I went to Greece, then Bulgaria. I had to change vehicles several times, from cars to trucks. And I had to hide in the back of the vehicles. At borders I had to be silent. I finally arrived in France, where I was left in the small city of Alençon, about 100 miles west of Paris.

“I spent the first night in a telephone cabin, then the next day I presented myself at a police station. The French police treated me very nicely. But then they put me in an internment camp, where I now live. We are given a subsistence income of 300 euros each month. I have to extend my temporary resident card every three months. But I’m afraid that I’ll be refused asylum and deported.

“The situation for gays and lesbians in Iran is not good. They can’t live the way they want to and have no rights. The government tells us that execution is the homosexual’s destiny. And lesbians have to be stoned to death. [Iranian president] Ahmadinejad’s government is much worse than the preceding one. If I'm forced to go back to Iran, I’ll definitely be executed."

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 5 --"Shocking New Photo of Hanging of Gay Iranian Teens"; 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 4, 2006 -- "Iran's Anti-Gay Pogrom"; 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, 2006--Stop the Deportation of Saba Rawi; March 3, 2006-- "Dutch to End Freeze on Deportation of Gay Iranians"; March 4, 2006-- "Commotion in Dutch Parliament Over Deportation of Gay Iranians."; March 16, 2006-- "England: Another Gay Iranian Faces Deportation"; April 20, 2006-- "Dutch Deportations of Gay Iranians on Hold"; April 26, 2006-- "iran Hacks Websites to Bury Anti-Gay Pogrom"; May 31, 2006-- "Iran Exports Anti-Gay Pogrom to Iraq"; June 14, 2006-- "An Iranian Gay Activist's Moving Plea."  June 25, 2006 -- "Iran's Gay Refugees Find a Safe Haven in Canada." ; July 4, 2006 --"Global Protests July 19 To Commemorate Hanging of Two Iranian Gay Teens." July 5, 2006 -- "From Inside Iran, An Underground Gay Activist Speaks: 'If I'm Found Out, No Physical Sign of Me Will Remain'" August 3, 2006 -- "Iran: Setting the Record Straight" ; August 6, 2006 -- "From Inside Iran, a Message from the Gay 'Zine MAHA"

Also, don't miss Rob Anderson's excellent article in the New Republic, "How America's Gay Rights Establishment is Failing Gay Iranians."

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