Shame of Iran 

U.S. remains silent on gay hangings

Thursday, Sep 1 2005
The Islamic Republic of Iran is engaged in a major crackdown on gays and gay sex, including executions of those found guilty of engaging in “homosexual acts.” Homosexual acts are considered a capital crime in Iran.

Iranians found guilty of gay lovemaking are given a choice of four death styles: being hanged, stoned, halved by a sword, or dropped from the highest perch. According to Article 152 of Iran’s penal law, if two men not related by blood are found naked under one cover without good reason, both will be punished at a judge’s discretion.

The Islamic Republic’s crackdown on gays drew world outrage and protests after the hanging for “homosexual acts” of two teenagers — one 18, the other believed to be 16 or 17 — on July 19 in the city of Mashad.

Charges against the two teens included the alleged rape of another youth. But three independent gay sources inside Mashad told Afdhere Jama, editor of Huriyah (an Internet zine for gay Muslims), that the teens were well-known in the city’s underground gay community as lovers who lived together, and said the rape charge was fabricated. The editors of an underground Farsi zine in Iran (who requested anonymity out of fear) also told me their Mashad sources also said the rape charge was trumped up.

“Under Islamic law, which has been adopted by Iran’s legal system, it takes four witnesses to prove an act of homosexuality, which is a capital crime. That’s why it’s much easier for the Islamic government to invent other criminal charges against gay people to get rid of them,” Jama told me. The Iranian gay zine’s editors e-mailed me an identical view, affirming that “the government invent all kind of charges on gay people that are not true, and are not to [be] believed,” and urging the West to be “very careful” before accepting such criminal charges at face value.

The hanged teens — who were imprisoned for 14 months and tortured before their execution, after they received a sentence of 228 lashes — were both 16 or younger at the time of their alleged crime. Iran is a signatory to two international treaties prohibiting the execution of minors (those under 18), so the teens’ hangings violated international law.

The gay adolescents’ hangings sparked protests in London, Paris, Dublin, Vienna, San Francisco, the Hague and Stockholm. The Stockholm rally featured a message from Faroush Danahkar, a clandestine gay Iranian refugee in Sweden, who had been condemned in Iran for “illegal relations” and lashed 99 times. His crime? At the age of 17, while at the beach, he kissed another boy. The hangings were condemned by Canada, and caused the governments of the Netherlands and Sweden to suspend the deportation of gay Iranians who had been refused asylum.

These worldwide protests have created a wave of repression by the newly elected, ultraconservative government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iranian scholars have told me Ahmadinejad’s victory owed much to his denunciations of “moral corruption” — including homosexuality, considered evidence of imported Western decadence. Sources inside Iran say that Ahmadinejad is now determined to step up the pace of repression and show that he will not knuckle under to Western protests.

The climate of fear in Iran today is extraordinary. Last month, a gay Iranian — 26-year-old Hussein Nassen — committed suicide in London, just two weeks after the U.K. refused his appeal for asylum, although he had been imprisoned in Iran because of his sexual orientation. Friends said he feared he would be tortured and executed if he was forced to return to Iran.

There are reports from Iran of a new wave of death sentences and executions targeting both minors and young men who are thought to be gay. Three weeks ago, the International Federation of Iranian Refugees reported that two gay men — 24 and 26 — had been scheduled to be executed on August 28 in the city of Arak. They, too, were charged with rape. On August 23, four young men between the ages of 17 and 23 were hanged in public in the port city of Bandar Abbas. A Justice Ministry official said the reason why young men were committing so many sex offenses was that “they are not aware of the punishment for their offenses under Islamic laws.” That is what the two gay teens hanged in Mashad had said through their lawyer — that they were unaware homosexual acts between two consenting people were a crime. The Iranian official’s statement suggests that the “sexual offenses” of the Bandar Abbas four were really homosexual acts (a rape charge was also brought against them). More death sentences against minors have also been reported.

President Ahmadinejad is scheduled to be in New York on September 14 to address the U.N. General Assembly — but no protests against executions of homosexuals and minors have been scheduled. Compared to the wave of protests in other Western countries, the silence here is deafening — and shameful.

DOUG IRELAND can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/.

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