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December 19, 2009

IRAN: 12 YOUTHS FACE EXECUTION FOR SODOMY

I wrote the following report for Gay City News, New York City's largest queer weekly:

Iran_noose_1 Ten young Iranian men, including eight teenagers, are currently awaiting execution for sodomy, and two more are being re-tried on the same capital charge. And, in an exclusive interview with Gay City News, an Iranian student gay rights activist confirmed for the first time the existence of queer organizing on multiple university campuses throughout Iran.

The information about the ten youths currently under sentence of death for sodomy (lavaat in Persian) was released on November 25 in a joint appeal by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO), and COC of the Netherlands, the world’s oldest LGBT rights group, founded in 1946. The three organizations called on Western countries “with significant diplomatic and economic ties to Iran, including Germany, France, Canada, as well as the European Union, to pursue diplomatic efforts to cease these executions.”

It is extremely difficult to obtain information about death penalty cases involving homosexuality under today’s repressive theocratic regime in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where the press is heavily censored and journalists, regime critics, and human rights advocates are routinely persecuted and arrested and where the subject of same-sex relations is officially considered a political and religious taboo. Defendants in sodomy cases are denied open trials. Last month, Human Rigths Watch, basing its finding on an Iranian newspaper report, told of the execution of two men for sodomy.

Most of the new information about the 12 defendants now threatened with execution for sodomy was provided by lawyers and activists with the Committee of Human Rights Reporters (CHHR) in Iran, according to Hossein Alizadeh, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for IGLHRC, while contacts in Iran provided by IRQO yielded additional information, he told Gay City News.

CHRR, founded in 2005, has become one of the most important sources of information about human rights violations in Iran and recently became the first Iranian human rights organization to officially recognize the LGBT rights struggle by creating a Queer Committee to deal with persecution of sexual minorities. (“Queer” is the translation preferred by Alizadeh and other gay Iranians for the Persian word “degar-bash,” a term meaning “different” and which embraces gays, lesbians, and transpeople.)

Hesam Misaghi, a 21-year-old leading member of CHRR’s Queer Committee, speaking through a translator by telephone from Isfahan, Iran’s third largest city, told Gay City News that this committee had been established some five months ago. The establishment of the Queer Committee by CHRR “is the sign of a new cultural awareness, because a new generation of Iranians no longer share the reactionary views of the regime with regard to sexual minorities,” said Misaghi, who courageously insisted on using his real name for the interview with this reporter. He added that “while an important part of those with this new attitude are secular, there is even a new generation of conservative Muslims who want to recognize queer rights.” Most of CHRR’s activists are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, and a number of them have been arrested and harassed by security forces for their human rights work.

“We’re not afraid of criticism from other human rights organizations or from society” in taking up the cause of queers, Misaghi said. “While since the fraud-tainted elections the regime has been putting repressive pressure on all sectors of civil society, one way the government wants to prove its authority and show its muscle is by persecuting and silencing sexual minorities and other marginal groups.” The activist added that “people in all the other CHRR committees and departments cooperate fully with the Queer Committee and help out.” The Queer Committee’s activism, Misaghi said, is “empowered by students.”

Misaghi confirmed to this reporter the existence of queer organizing on a number of university campuses throughout Iran, marking the first time that a student activist has spoken openly to a Western reporter about this new development. The reason there has been no reporting outside Iran on campus queer organizing, according to the activist, is that “based on what I’ve experienced, there is great secrecy on the part of student queer activists, most of whom use aliases in their work, and in issuing public statements will do so only in the name of a group. There is no visibility, no head figure, no out activists.”

A joint statement from several campus groups and signed “Queer Students of the Iranian Universities,” issued for the December 7 nationwide commemorations of what is known as Student Day and addressed to the larger Iranian student movement, declared: “Considering that a considerable number of students are sexual minorities and the fact that many queer activists are either students or alumni of Iranian Universities, on the eve of this year’s Student Day we should embrace a more thorough meaning of human rights values that includes the rights of queers. It is also imperative that those in the Green Movement [the name given to the pro-democracy, anti-regime agitation following the fraudulent elections] who are working on the draft of Iran’s new constitution, expand their horizons and include the sexual rights and protection of sexual minorities in this document.

“The queer students of Iranian universities would like to address the Green Movement in friendship and solidarity and tell them that the respect for human rights and the rights of all citizens is above and beyond all other demands, including the desire of the leaders of the student movement to protect the [framework and the principles ] of the Islamic revolution.”

The December 7 Student Day commemorates the 1953 slaying of three students during a protest under the late shah, and this year was marked by large anti-regime demonstrations at campuses across the country, including by hundreds of students chanting anti-government slogans at Azad University in Mashhad, the city in which the hanging of two teenagers on sodomy charges in 2005 sparked world-wide protests. The demonstrators in Tehran, who chanted, “Death to the dictator” and “Do not be scared, we are all together,” were violently attacked by Basiji, the thuggish parapolice the regime employs to attack dissidents and muscularly enforce its stringent morals policy. Tear gas and even live rounds were reported to have been used, and all university campuses were surrounded by security forces. On other occasions, the Basiji have used beatings, kidnapping, and torture against queers.

Misaghi explained the queer students’ declaration by observing, “The majority of the student movement is dominated by conservative Muslims, who, even when they criticize the current regime, defend the Islamic Republic and aren’t at all sympathetic to queer rights, due to the taboo nature of homosexuality in the Islamic Republic. Leftist student groups are more inclined to support the queer struggle. But this is a zero tolerance regime, and even student critics who share its Islamist ideology are subjected to arrest and persecution.”

Misaghi noted that “as an indicator, when the Queer Committee of CHRR puts out a statement, it is the leftist groups and students of leftist tendencies who pick it up and redistribute our statement” in their blogs and literature.

The student movement as a whole has been under serious attack in recent weeks, with at least 130 students arrested as of December 9, according to Hadi Ghaemi, director of the US.-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Misaghi told Gay City News that on Student Day he was part of a conference to talk about the student movement, but that the meeting was dispersed by riot police. When Misaghi was a second-year student at Isfahan University, he was expelled for being a member of the Baha’i faith, a monotheistic religion founded in 19th century Persia that emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind. The target of ferocious persecution since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Baha’ii have been subjected to a marked increase in repression since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president of Iran, including loss of employment, arrest, expulsion from universities, the sacking of their shrines, and the desecration and bulldozing of their cemeteries.

The joint statement on those facing the death penalty for sodomy by IGLHRC, IRQO, and COC noted, “In most cases, the Court convicts the defendants of sodomy charges solely on the basis of ‘the knowledge of the judge.’ According to the Iranian law, when there is not enough evidence to convict a defendant of a sexual crime, the judge may use his knowledge, in a deductive process based on the evidence that already exists, to determine whether the crime took place or not. Unfortunately, the excessive use of this principle means that rather than paying attention to evidence, the judge often sentences defendants to death based on his speculations. A number of prominent legal and religious scholars believe that such a broad application of the ‘the knowledge of the judge’ to issue death penalty for sexual crimes is in violation of the letter and the spirit of Sharia law.”

Among the dozen cases detailed in the joint statement by the three groups were the following:

Ghaseem Bashkool, 25, a third-year student of applied mathematics, was arrested along with another young man on May 31, 2007 on charges of sodomy. Both men were convicted despite an absence of credible evidence, the First District of the Criminal Court of the Ardabil province finding them guilty of sodomy and sentencing them to death. In February 2009, in an open letter on the Internet in which he pleaded for his life, Ghassem insisted that the sodomy allegation was baseless and that in the absence of any credible evidence, the judge had referred to the “knowledge of the judge” as the basis of his ruling. At the time of his letter, Ghassem had spent 20 months in Ardebil prison, but despite repeated efforts by a lawyers and human rights defenders inside Iran, his fate is currently unknown.

Mohsen Ghabrai, who was a minor at the time of his arrest, was found guilty by a Court in Shiraz of sodomy and sentenced to death. His lawyer appealed, but the Supreme Court upheld his death sentence, which is expected to be carried out soon. Mohsen has consistently said he is innocent of the charges.

Mahdi Pooran, 17 years old, and three other teenagers — Hamid Taghi, Ebrahim Hamidi, and Mehdi Rezaii — were found guilty of sodomy by the Second District Criminal Court of Tabriz in July 2008, and sentenced to death. The case was based on a complaint alleging physical and sexual assault from a 19-year old man, Hojat, with a history of family feuds with the defendants. After repeatedly telling the court he had no witnesses to substantiate his charges, in the most recent court session, Hojat introduced three male relatives he said were witnesses. Given the absence of the fourth witness required under law, the court’s ruling was based on the “knowledge of the judge.”

A prominent Iranian human rights lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaii, who represented the four defendants, believes his clients were framed. In a post to his blog, he said that following a fistfight between his clients and a group of four young men who trespassed and damaged land owned by Hamidi’s father, the police intervened and arrested his clients, accusing them of gang rape. When his clients declared their innocence, the police officials subjected them to three days of beatings and torture, trying to force a confession from at least one of them. Failing that, the police referred the case to the court as a sodomy rape case.

After the initial hearing, the court ordered the release of the men on $10,000 bail, but it took the defendants 28 days to provide the bail and get out of jail. Fifty-five days later, during the trial, the deputy district attorney requested the death penalty for the defendants. The court sentenced the four to death, a penalty that will be carried out if the Iranian Supreme Court approves when it takes up the case at an unspecified date.

Nemat Safavi, now 19, was arrested in June 2006 at age 16 for alleged sodomy, and the Criminal Court in Ardebil sentenced him to death. But the Supreme Court overturned his sentence on March 4, 2009, and sent the case to another criminal court in Ardebil for retrial. Saeed Jalalifar, a member of CHRR who recently obtained a lawyer for Safavi, was arrested on November 30 and is still in prison.

Gay City News spoke by telephone through a translator with that lawyer, 32-year-old Masomeh Tahmasebi. She said she had been denied the files relating to Safavi’s death sentence and would only learn more about the case when she traveled next week to meet with him in Ardebil, a northwest frontier province whose former governor is President Ahmadinejad and whose population is largely made up of ethnic Azeris, who are racially persecuted by the Islamic Republic.

Tahmasebi explained that it was often very difficult for defendants in sodomy cases to find competent lawyers. “Because of the social stigma attached to sodomy cases, many lawyers are not willing to take on such cases because of fears of accusations that they might be gay themselves,” she told Gay City News. “And because of this same social shame, families often do not contact lawyers to defend the accused, so as a last resort the court assigns a lawyer pro bono, who often does not get the case until the day of the trial. So most of these sodomy cases are badly defended.”

That means, Thamasebi added, that “the only real chance left for the defendant is international human rights pressure and protest against the application of the death penalty — but often this occurs so late that the window of opportunity to prevent these executions is very small.”

In recent weeks, the Ahmadinejad regime has increased its monitoring and disruption of Internet and telephone communications in an attempt to stifle opposition and criticism, and this reporter chillingly experienced this first-hand while interviewing the two Iranians quoted here. During the interview with Thamasebi, when Ahmadinejad’s name was mentioned, the communication was abruptly terminated in mid-sentence. And in the interview with Misaghi, when the question of organizing to repeal the death penalty for sodomy was brought up, the communication was similarly cut off quite suddenly.

This reporter would like to thank Hossein Alizadeh of IGLHRC
for his translation services in the preparation of this article. The English-language web site of Iran’s Committee of Human Rights Reporters is at http://chrr.us/index-en.php. To protest the impending executions for sodomy in Iran, click on iglhrc.org/cgi-bin/iowa/article/takeaction/globalactionalerts/1028.html.


Posted by Direland at 12:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 14, 2009

HONDURAN GAY ACTIVIST WALTER TROCHEZ ASSASSINATED

Walter Trochez (BELOW), 27 years old, a well-known LGBT activist in Honduras who wasWalter_trochez
an active member of the National Resistance Front against the coup d'etat there, was assassinated on the evening of December 13, shot dead by drive-by killers. Trochez, who had already been arrested and beaten for his sexual orientation after participating in a march against the coup, had been very active recently in documenting and publicizing homophobic killings and crimes committed by the forces behind the coup, which is believed to have been the motive for his murder. He had been trailed for weeks before his murder by thugs believed to be members of the state security forces.  

In an open letter documenting this wave of political assassinations of Honduran queers he'd written last month entitled "Increase in hate crimes and homophobia towards LGTB as a result of the civic-religious-military coup in Honduras,” Trochez had written that "Once again we say it is NOT ACCEPTABLE that in these past 4 months, during such a short period, 9 transexual and gay friends were violently killed, 6 in San Pedro Sula and 3 in Tegucigalpa." At the end of this open letter, Trochez declared that "As a revolutionary, I will always defend my people, even if it takes my life”. Sadly, that's what happened. (READ THE FULL TEXT IN ENGLISH OF TROCHEZ'S OPEN LETTER HERE. Full text in Spanish of Trochez's open letter is at the end of this post).

American University Assistant Professor of Anthropology Adrienne Pine, author of Adrienne's book
"Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras" (University of California Press, cover above left), has translated into English on her blog a statement about the Trochez murder by the Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH -- the Center for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights  in Honduras), which you can find here
.
In a moving statement about the Trochez murder, the influential Honduran youth organization Los Necios said: "We met Walter fighting; we quickly saw within him an indisputable leader in the defense of human rights. As a member of the gay, lesbian, trans, and bisexual community he converted himself into a reference of this struggle in which the Honduran youth has developed with dedication from the breast of the Resistencia Contra el Golpe de Estado (resistance against the coup d'etat).

"Recently he felt the direct threat of the fury of the irrationality, the reaction and the stupidity of the obsolete structural power that sadly today exists in Honduras. The repressive forces that serve the businessmen and kill Hondurans kidnapped him and warned him that he should silence himself, Walter, as was to be expected, said no. It was a relief to know that he bravely escaped from the grip of the beast and was it heartwarming to see him again in the streets this past Friday 11 of December when the force of the La Resistencia was felt in the streets, of course the compañero Tróchez headed the march of the pueblo (nation). Walter Tróchez was shot in betrayal this past December 13; such is the method of cowards..." (Full text in English of this statement is here.)

    Adrienne e-mailed me that "Walter has been one of the most important figures in the LGBT community in Honduras for years."
    Amnesty International has issued a statement calling for an investigation of the murder, which you can read here.
   Radio Mundo's web site has a good article, in English, on the murder here.
   Walter Trochez's November 16 e-mail Open Letter describing assassinations of Honduran LGBTers since the coup, in Spanish, is below:
El 16 de noviembre de 2009 13:44, Walter Trochez <walterhnte@yahoo.com> escribió:

Incremento de los  crímenes de odio y homofobia hacia la Comunidad LGTTB  a raíz del golpe de Estado cívico- religioso-militar en Honduras

El golpe de Estado cívico-militar sucedido en Honduras el 28 de junio pasado ha dado un vuelco brutal a la nueva perspectiva que se había abierto en el siglo XXI en América Latina. En efecto, la región estuvo sellada en los últimos diez años por la instauración de gobiernos de diferentes características cuyo denominador común es que significaron un cambio de rumbo respecto de las políticas neoliberales que alcanzaron su apogeo en la región en la última década del siglo XX. En muchos casos la forma parlamentaria asumida por los gobiernos de la región enmascaró hasta cierto punto la continuidad e identidad de las políticas sociales y económicas del neoliberalismo con las instauradas en la época de las dictaduras militares. La situación en Honduras vuelve a hacer manifiesta esa indisociabilidad entre las políticas sociales y económicas neoliberales y los intereses a cuyo servicio se perpetraron los crímenes de lesa humanidad por gobiernos de facto.

También vuelve a hacer manifiesto un dato más o menos disimulado por la retórica del “consenso” y la “tolerancia” a que se pretendió reducir la noción de democracia en el período subsiguiente a las dictaduras militares y guerras civiles que devastaron la región: no sólo la persistencia sino el rearme de los sectores civiles que recurrieron en otra etapa a las fuerzas armadas y de seguridad para imponer sus intereses, y que ahora combinan hábilmente su adaptación a los procedimientos democráticos con la conocida prepotencia e ilegalidad con que se imponen a poblaciones seminermes, semi cómplices. Sin ir más lejos, no es difícil ver en las fuerzas que sacaron ventaja en las elecciones legislativas en Argentina el mismo 28 de junio el apoyo, en algunos casos explícito, al golpe de Estado en Honduras, y una comunidad de intereses con el empresariado, las corporaciones mediáticas y la Iglesia Catolica y Evangélica que lo promovieron. A nuestros efectos es de destacar el explícito apoyo de la cúpula religiosa de Honduras al golpe cívico militar que el 28 de junio de 2009 impidió la realización de un plebiscito organizado por el  gobierno legitomo constitucional y colocó en el Poder Ejecutivo a el Dictador Roberto y Micheletti.

Un comunicado de la Conferencia Episcopal de Honduras, firmado por los once obispos de la Iglesia Católica, justifica con supuestos fundamentos constitucionales el secuestro, la transitoria desaparición y expulsión del país del presidente constitucional: “las instituciones del Estado democrático hondureño están en vigencia y sus ejecutorias en materia jurídico-legal han sido apegadas a derecho…”. Además define la situación actual como “nuevo punto de partida para el diálogo, el consenso y la reconciliación…” Por otra parte, en consonancia con la reacción y declaraciones de los movimientos sociales, especialmente LGTTB,  campesinos, indígenas, del país, no se hicieron esperar las reacciones de las distintas organizaciones, Lésbicas, Gay, Bisexuales, Transexuales, Travestis (LGTTB), organizaciones, redes y movimientos juveniles, organizaciones Afrodecendientes,organizaciones de mujeres, activistas y defensores de derechos humanos, organizaciones y redes de derechos humanos   condenando el golpe de Estado y llamando a la solidaridad regional e internacional con el Estado de derecho y con las víctimas de la represión del gobierno de facto.

Las organizaciones, redes y movimientos LGTTB en resistencia por ejemplo; condenan  “el golpe político militar contra el estado de Honduras con el apoyo financiero de los empresarios de la ultraderecha latinoamericana y norteamericana, la promoción de las corporaciones mediáticas nacionales, la protección del Ombudsman mercantilista Ramón Custodio del  Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humano de Honduras (CONADEH) y la bendición de las Iglesias católica y evangélica” atraves de sus  máximos representantes como  es el mismo Cardemal Oscar Andres Rodríguez,monseñor Darwin  Andino, Pasquel Rodríguez, Monseñor Garachana de la diócesis de San Pedro Sula, el pastor Oswaldo Canales actualmente presidente del Consejo Nacional Anticorrupción CNA, el pastor Evelio Pistero de la Iglesia Vida y pisto Abundante, el Pastor René Peñalba  y el pastor Alberto Solórzano y los ancianos cofundadores  de la Iglesia Evangélica CCI  . Expresan su “apoyo irrestricto al regreso del orden constitucional en Honduras que pasa por la restauración de la democracia”, y exige “el cese de la represión que vivimos las y los activistas y defensores de derechos humanos, las  organizaciones que nos manifestamos contra el golpe por parte de los cuerpos militares y policiales retirados responsables de los desaparecidos y desaparecidas  de la década del 80 en Honduras comandados por el asesino Billy Joya.

“Por su parte la Asociación  LGTTB Arcoiris y el Colectivo TTT de la Ciudad de San Pedro Sula, activistas y defensores de derechos humanos, denuncian que desde el pasado 29 de junio del año en curso horas anteriores  que se había generado el Golpe de Estado se incrementaron los crimes de odio y Homofobia  promovidos por la Cupula Religiosa Hondureña en complicidad con los Grupos Opresores como son la Fuerzas Armadas, la Secretaria Nacional de Seguridad, la Empresa Privada, los Grupos Próvida, el Opus Dei,  Estos delitos ponen una vez más en evidencia los altos niveles de odio, estigma y discriminación contra personas de la diversidad sexual, lo que llamamos, homofobia, lesbofobia, bifobia, y sobre todo transfobia, de los que somos objetos las personas que tenemos una orientación sexual o identidad de género diferente a la del patrón de la norma heterosexual. En la ocasión de la pérdida de dos amigas más esta última semana, reiteramos que NO es ACEPTABLE que en estos últimos 4 meses, durante un tan corto periodo, hayan muerto de forma violenta cruel e inhumana 9 compañeras trans y compañeros gay, 6 de ellas/os en el sector de San Pedro Sula y 3 en la ciudad de
Tegucigalpa”.

Las y los mártires de la Comunidad LGTTB.

1. Viki Hernández 29 de junio, San Pedro Sula
2. Martina Jackson 30 de junio, Choloma
3. Fabio Zamora 05 de julio, Tegucigalpa
4. Héctor Maradiaga 11 de agosto, Tegucigalpa
5. Michelle Torres 30 de agosto, San Pedro Sula
6. Salomé Miranda 20 de septiembre, Choloma
7. Saira Salmerón 20 de septiembre, Choloma
8. Marión Lanza 09 de octubre, Tegucigalpa
9. Montserrat Maradiaga 11 de octubre, San Pedro Sula.

“Sépanlo bien: ni los corrompidos (corruptos) ni los impuros, ni los explotadores y explotadoras, que sirven al dios Dinero, tendrán parte en el reino de Cristo y de Dios”.

“Como revolucionario, estaré hoy, mañana  y siempre en las primeras filas de mi pueblo, aún estando consiente que se nos podrá ir la vida”.

Walter Orlando Trochez
Activista y Defensor de los Derechos Humanos de Honduras
 Y Latinoamérica  sector (VIH y Sida, LGTTB, Juventud y Adolescencia, Niñez)
Móvil: + 504 – 95038128
88542680
   

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