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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
October 14, 2005

Iran's gays, fearing a pogrom, reach out to U.S. for help

Mashhad, Iran--In response to an elevated crackdown on gay men by the June 24 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, gay and lesbian Iranians are pleading for relief and calling for protests by the worldwide GLBT community.

Those pleas are falling on largely deaf ears in the United States, amid increasing reports of public hangings and torture. With these is the first-hand account of a 22-year-old who escaped to Turkey after being publicly lashed 100 times. He says he was entrapped by government officials bent on rooting out gays.

Ahmadinejad is a former mayor of Tehran and reactionary known for his role in the 1979 revolution that resulted in the overthrowing of the shah and seizure of 52 American hostages. He was elected with support of powerful religious conservatives mobilized through mosques.

As mayor, Ahmadinejad waged cultural war by shutting down fast-food restaurants, requiring male city employees to wear beards and sleeves, and purging the city of references to Western culture, including billboards picturing Westerners.

As president, Ahmadinejad appears to be including hanging and torturing gay men in his efforts to bring Iran in line with a narrow interpretation of Sharia, or law inspired by the Koran.

Politics shaped by homophobia are nothing new in Iran.

One of the tools used by the Ayatollah Khomeini to depose the shah was to stir up public outrage at government officials� �immoral lifestyle,� which included assertions that homosexuality was rampant in the administration. The shah was rumored to be bisexual, and his prime minister, Amir Abbas Hoveyda, was gay.

This was seen by fundamentalists as a clear sign that the shah was not fit to govern. It was Khomeini who instituted the death penalty for the �crime� of homosexuality.

The current anti-gay crackdown is part of a larger but similar crackdown on all �moral corruption� by Ahmadinejad.

According to gay political journalist Doug Ireland, who interviewed the escaped 22-year-old known only as Amir, the penalties are the same for men and women, but men are being executed far more often because they are more visible in the culture.

The government is snaring men in entrapment campaigns on the internet and in outdoor cruising spots.

Amir told Ireland in a widely published September 20 interview that most of the anti-gay entrapment is being done by the basigi, an unofficial parapolice force under the authority of the Revolutionary Guards called Pasdarani, whose officers are recruited from the criminal classes and assigned to be �provacateurs� with no official link to the government.

It is the basigi that are trolling gay chat rooms, trying to make dates with men.

In Amir�s case, it was the basigi that arrested him and took him to the Intelligence Ministry headquarters where officials were shown a printout of his internet activity and photo.

Amir said he was tortured to confession by being made to sit on a metal chair with a gas flame under it, while being threatened with rape by men at an army barracks.

A basigi told another �to take [a] bottle and shove it up my ass, screaming �This will teach you not to want any more cock,� � Amir told Ireland.

Once he confessed, Amir was beaten and eventually taken to court where he was sentenced to the flogging.

Labelled as a �famous faggot,� Amir�s home was regularly visited by the basigi and by the Office of Promotion of Virtue and Promotion of Vice. The office is a governmental arm that also works to prohibit �deviant� activity, including women wearing makeup, boys and girls holding hands, and women not wearing proper Islamic attire. Amir was under constant surveillance and could not get a job.

Others have been hanged after additional trumped-up charges such as rape are added.

Two gay teenagers, Ayaz Marhini, 18, and Mahmoud Asgari, 16, were hanged July 19 in Justice Square in the city of Mashhad.

After members of Iran�s parliament expressed outrage because the boys were so young, conservative deputy Ali Asgari defended the hanging saying, �Instead of paying tribute to the action of the judiciary, the media are mentioning the age of the hanged criminals and creating a commotion that harms the interests of the state.�

Human rights organizations and individual advocates, especially bloggers, have petitioned the U.S. State Department to speak out against the human rights violations in Iran. The department has declined.

They have also called on American GLBT advocacy organizations to do more. The groups have made initial requests to Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, but not followed up.

Ireland calls what is happening in Iran a �pogrom� of targeted, large-scale violence, and says it appears to be getting worse.

The Persian Gay and Lesbian Association has been organized by Iranian gays who have fled to safe countries for the purpose of telling the story of Iranian gay persecution and helping others escape.

PGLO was formed in 2004 as an outgrowth of an earlier group called Rainbow. Its secretariats are in Norway and Turkey, and soon, Canada.

They are gearing up for a campaign against what�s happening in Iran and are seeking help from North Americans.

�We reach out our hands of need to you,� says their website.

PGLO can be found on the Internet at www.pglo.org.

 

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