New Report Documents Abuse of Sexual Minorities in Iran
by LEILA DARABI
23 Dec 2010 10:51
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