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New Report Documents Abuse of Sexual Minorities in Iran

by LEILA DARABI

23 Dec 2010 10:513 Comments
2010_Iran_LGBTRefugee.jpg[ dispatch ] Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting the systematic abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals by the Islamic Republic and called for the immediate decriminalization of sexual minorities in Iran.

In Iran, consensual sex between two men or two women is punishable by death and anyone caught engaged in "lustful kissing" with a member of the same sex may be sentenced to 60 lashings. In addition to being one of only seven countries in the world that assigns the death penalty to consensual homosexual sex, Iran continues to sentence and execute citizens accused as minors.

Based on interviews with 125 LGBT Iranians living at home or as refugees abroad, the Human Rights Watch report opens with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's now infamous 2007 proclamation made before an audience at Columbia University in New York:

"In Iran we don't have homosexuals like you do in your country. This does not exist in our country."

The very real existence and plight of LGBT citizens of Iran has garnered a smattering of international attention in recent years thanks to campaigns coordinated by rights groups like the Canada-based Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR), which aims to help sexual minorities seek asylum abroad.

And this year, American subscribers of HBO had the chance to become more acquainted with Iran's bizarre transgender laws -- homosexuality is illegal, sex reassignment surgery to "cure" it is not -- with the airing of Tanaz Eshaghian's 2008 documentary Be Like Others.

But Human Rights Watch's 102-page report, "We are a Buried Generation: Discrimination and Violence Against Sexual Minorities in Iran," is the first of such broad scope and high profile to so thoroughly document the abuse and torture of LGBT Iranians carried out by the Iranian government, in particular by state security forces.

Those interviewed give testimony of physical and emotional abuse including routine sexual assault and rape. Some of the most harrowing stories come from men detained by the police or paramilitary Basij after being accused of suspected "homosexual conduct."

Navid, a 42-year old café owner recounts being picked up by Basij while walking home from work. The officers, he says, then entered and searched his home where they found CDs and gay images, which they deemed "immoral material." Then they removed his clothing. According to Navid:

"[One of them] forced his penis inside my mouth. I threw up and dirtied myself. They dragged me into the bathroom and washed me down with cold water. The whole time they continued to beat me all over. Then one of them found a satellite receiver and told me to say goodbye to my place for at least six months."

The authorities carrying out these abuses, Human Rights Watch argues, are empowered not only by inhumane laws targeting sexual minorities, but by dangerously vague language in Iran's penal code leaving much up to the discretion of Shar'ia judges. The standard of evidence is high on the books, requiring eye-witness testimony or confession, but a judge may also sentence a suspect to death based on his own "knowledge" that he or she has engaged in homosexual sex. While this reason, too, theoretically requires some proof, in practice it is subject to the whim and interpretation of the man ruling the case.

"Members of sexual minorities in Iran are hounded on all sides. The laws are stacked against them; the state openly discriminates against them; and they are vulnerable to harassment, abuse, and violence because their perpetrators feel they can target them with impunity," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

The overall impact of these laws, the report states, fuels violence and hate among society at large and puts LGBT Iranians at constant risk of rights abuses. Iran's penal code makes it illegal not just to be gay, but to be perceived as gay. In addition, the country's anti-sexual minority laws violate numerous international treaties signed by the current government.

They are also grossly inconsistent. Case in point, the trans paradox: a gay man may agree to sex reassignment surgery to become "legal" and may even receive a legal permit to dress as a woman prior to the surgery. And then there's the military paradox: it's illegal to be gay, but gay and bisexual men may apply to be legally exempt from mandatory national military service on the grounds that they are homosexual.

Among its recommendations, the report calls specifically upon other countries and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to protect LGBT refugees from Iran and assist them in seeking asylum outside of their country.

The full report is available for download here in English, Farsi, Arabic and Turkish, among other languages.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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3 Comments

You have failed to mention other organization who also work to help Iranian LGBT.

Iranian Queer Railroad is NOT THE ONLY organization unless Arsham Parsi is a friend of your and you want to only promote him and his organization.

For your information the other organizations to mention are:
Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO)
Iranian Refugee Amnesty Network (IRAN)
Iranian Refugee Action Network (IRAN)
Mission for Iran
International Federation for Iranian Refugees (IFIR)

Many of us have been working with Iranian refugees, specially our LGBT clients, for many years and it is because of OUR COLLECTIVE EFFORTS that reports like this can be published by reputable organizations like HRW.

Please do a better job of reporting so you don't come across as biased towards one organization ;-)

Soheila Nikpour
Representative, Int' Coalition for Rights of Iranian Refugees icri.refugees@gmail.com

Soheila Nikpour / December 24, 2010 1:26 AM

Dear Soheila,

Thank you for your comment, for this important list of other brave organizations and for your emphasis on coalition work. This was not meant to be a comprehensive list, which is why it says "groups like" IRQR. I used IRQR as an example because of the significant media attention they have received, not because of any personal connection to the organization's director.

Similarly, mentioning Be Like Others is not to imply that there is only one documentary out there on this issue.

I will certainly keep your contact information for future stories.

Leila

Leila / December 24, 2010 6:16 AM

Dear Ms. Darabi

Thank you for paying attention to Media Glitter, only, for your report, and thank you for being honest about your lack of knowledge and insight on the issue of Iranian LGBT and refugee advocay organizations.

Still, even though Iran Beouro might not be so wide-spread and widelly read, it would not hurt to take a more thourough study to do a report on a report and to respond to an organziation who got up to adress you. Ms. Nikpour is indeed the head of IRAN organziation and one of your "news-makers" in Turkey if you were you're interetsted in less-glittered refugee work.

Because reporting is all depended on the use of language and using the language art to spread the word the the journalsit wishes to pursue, we're watching our English/Faris writing reporters and their good work in the fields of Iranian LGBT HR and Civil Activism related to Green Movement,

I wish you a happy new year and better journalism insights

Regards


Saghi Ghahraman

Saghi Ghahraman / December 24, 2010 8:00 PM