16/02/2012 | Writer: Kaos GL
Homophobia runs both wide and deep in Iranian society. This in part reflects the influence of the conservative Islamic legal and religious standards established by the government.
By Arsham Parsi
Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR), Founder and Executive Director, Iran (Based in Canada)
IRQR is an international queer human rights non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Toronto, Canada. The primary mission of IRQR is to aid and assist Iranian Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered refugees in countries all over the world, and who now face the threat of deportation back to Iran, to the best of our abilities in obtaining asylum status in safe countries. IRQR helps those refugees through complicated asylum processes and provides funding for safe houses through donations wherever possible, as most of our queer refugee clients are in physical danger in their countries of transit as well.
Today, IRQR is the only active NGO that works on behalf of the global population of Iranian queers, (i.e. lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered persons). We document human rights violations against Iranian queers on the basis of sexual orientation; provide letters of support for Iranian queer asylum seekers and refugees; and vigorously support anti-homophobia, anti-transphobia and anti-persecution efforts in Iran. Our documentation is widely respected for its accuracy and credibility.
I am also the coordinator and cultural ambassador for the Stockholm-based International Lesbian and Gay Cultural Network (ILGCN), an official member and affiliate of the Brussels-based International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), the Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad Group, and the Berlin-based Advisory Committee of the Hirschfeld-Eddy Foundation for LGBT Human Rights. In April 2008 the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO), the former NGO which became the foundation for IRQR today, was awarded the Felipa De Souza Human Rights Award by the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). In June 2008, IRQR was recognized at the Toronto Pride Award for Excellence in Human Rights.
Iranian queers have well-founded fears of persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Penal Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is based on strict Sharia law, permits the punishment of queer people by lashing, hanging, stoning, cutting in half by a sword, or dropping from a tall building or cliff. Additionally, under Fiqh – Islamic jurisprudence used in conjunction with Sharia law – homosexuality is punishable by beheading or burning alive.
My own and IRQR’s experiences in researching human rights violations in Iran suggests that in "moral" cases, stringent standards of evidence are likely to be flouted by the judiciary in the name of protecting cultural and religious standards. In Iran, four male witnesses who attest that a defendant is homosexual, simply on the basis of rumor or slander, are likely to find their testimony accepted in lieu of more rigorous cross-examination of their sworn statements. Iranian legal and judicial procedures ensure that a judge’s prejudice against a particular defendant, even based solely on a defendant’s appearance or demeanor, is allowed near-limitless scope to determine a verdict based purely on subjective opinion. It is worth noting that even under the reform government of the former President Mohammed Khatami (1997-2005) the Islamic judiciary remained one of the bulwarks of religious conservatism in Iran, a judicial and legal status which has been strengthened and reinforced under the hard line rule of current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In a sign of the general judicial attitude to homosexual conduct in Iran, Ayatollah Musavi-Ardebili, prominent Iranian clergy member and chief justice in Iran, said the following in a sermon delivered in 1990 at Tehran University, while he was serving as the head of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary: “For homosexuals, men or women, Islam has proscribed the most severe punishments… Do you know how homosexuals are treated in Islam? After homosexuality has been proven on the basis of Sharia, the authorities should seize him [or her]…they should keep him standing, and should then split him in two with a sword, cut off his head at the neck or split the head. He will fall down. They (queers) get what they deserve.”(1)
Homophobia runs both wide and deep in Iranian society. This in part reflects the influence of the conservative Islamic legal and religious standards established by the government. The Supreme Leader – the highest ranking political and religious authority in the Islamic Republic of Iran - Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini notoriously called for homosexuals to be exterminated as “parasites and corruptors of the nation” who “spread the stain of wickedness”(2). Because of Khomeini’s status as the principal marja-e-taqlid ("source of information") in 1979 when he spoke these words, his remarks carry a great deal of influence in the law. The extent of homophobia in Iran also reflects a non-secular patriarchal social system in which sexuality is controlled and feared, except when used for reproductive purposes.
Within the region, Iran is distinguished by the extreme severity of the penalties it imposes on adult homosexuals engaging in consensual acts. Lavat, or sodomy, is punishable by execution on the first offense regardless of whether the partner is passive or active. Article 111 of the Islamic Penal Code states that: “Lavat is punishable by death so long as both the active and passive partners are mature, of sound mind, and have acted of free will.” Death is also the proscribed punishment for a first offense involving sex between two males, one who is a Muslim and the other who is not a Muslim. According to Articles 121 and 122 of the Penal Code, Tafkhiz (the rubbing together of thighs or buttocks, or other forms of non-penetrative “foreplay” between men) is punishable by one hundred lashes for each partner. After a fourth conviction of Tafkhiz, the punishment is death. Article 123 of the Penal Code further proscribes that, “if two men who are not related by blood lie naked under the same cover without any necessity” each are to receive ninety-nine lashes(3).
According to Iran’s Penal Code, an accused person can be convicted of sodomy if he reiterates a confession to the act four times, or if four “righteous men” testify that they have witnessed the act(4). Medical evidence of homosexual activity can also be used as direct evidence. This most arbitrary and capricious legal code also offers ways to circumvent normally high standard of evidence. Judges may lodge convictions for sodomy based solely on “the knowledge of the judge”, which in practice allow a wide range of circumstantial evidence to be admitted in court as proof of guilt. Torture is also commonplace in Iran, and the practice of torturing prisoners to extract confessions is widespread. Forced confessions are openly accepted as evidence in criminal trials.
In June 2002 Iran’s Council of Guardians, a committee of 12 senior clerics, vetoed a bill passed by the Majlis (Iran’s Parliament) that would have placed certain restrictions on the use of torture, and would have limited the judicial use of confessions obtained under duress. Yet even that bill would have provided inadequate protections against torture. For example, it would have set no limit on the length of time which a person could be detained incommunicado, and would have exempted from its protections of certain categories of arrestees, including “mofsed fil arz" ("corruptors of the earth"), a general category for dissidents or "moral offenders" which could also be interpreted to include homosexuals. The refusal of Iran’s government to enact even rudimentary safeguards against torture sends a clear message to legal authorities that confessions can be obtained from arrestees by any means. In both word and deed, the Iranian government has continued to stigmatize certain categories of arrestees as undeserving of even the most minimal protections(5).
In March 2009, The Army of Guardians of the Islamic Revolution of Iran (Sepah-e Pasdaran) announced that they had discovered corruption in the largest network of online activities, and had dismantled it. Several official news releases indicated that the moderators and members of certain websites such as Avizoon, XPersia, and BiaKlip were arrested, interrogated and identified as the perpetrators of a cyber "velvet revolution” (a non-violent gentle revolution). The groups’ photos, names, and their online aliases were published on a website run by Sepah-e Pasdaran(6). Moreover, the identities of some of the arrested individuals have been exposed on national television as confessing to their "crimes". Since that time, two other websites and a number of individuals have also been arrested and publicly accused of hosting illegal content.
The Iranian government recently passed a bill on "Internet Crimes." This bill allows a judge to issue a sentence of either execution or extreme punishment for those caught hosting or distributing content that is "anti-religious, pornographic, or uncomplimentary to government officials." According to the Iranian Penal Code, homosexuality is considered obscene, and same-sex acts are crimes punishable by death. Also implicit in the penal code is the permitting of male kin to commit "honor killings" on homosexual or transsexual members of their families. The websites that contained any reference to homosexuality were the first ones to be dismantled and their moderators intimidated. These incidents all constitute attempts by the Iranian authorities to silence human and civil rights activists, as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender bloggers whose only means of communicating with the outside world and one another is through posting on the internet.
Accusations against the bloggers from the Iranian courts may include "publishing stories and articles containing obscene and unethical sexual relationships" and referring to extra-marital and same-sex relationships. In one well-known case in Iran, a man and a woman had allegedly published "stories and articles on same-sex sexuality" and were arrested for it, though neither of the two identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Asqar R.L.A., a 39-year-old male residing in Shiraz, and Maryam G., a 27-year-old female residing in Yazd, have been accused of and have confessed to publishing articles and stories on same-sex relationships and spreading "homosexuality" among the youth in Iran(7).
So far, four of the detainees in the aforementioned cases confessed to publishing illegal sexual material online. Since same-sex acts are punishable by death, and promoting queer activities is considered "moral" actions against the state and the laws of Iran, unjust arrests, persecution and executions of members, friends and allies of Iranian queer communities will continue to increase. The recent arrests and exposure of the names of well-known gay bloggers in Iran revealed to all what the new decree targeting the queer internet community in Iran is doing.
Queer bloggers in Iran form one of the strongest networks of bloggers in the region. They vigorously oppose homophobic legislation and criticize Iranian authorities for denying them their basic human rights. So far, a number of queer bloggers have removed their blogs in order to avoid investigation by the authorities. Some blogs, well known for their success in raising awareness of the absence of civil rights for queers in Iran’s constitution, have been filtered. A number of other queer bloggers received official letters from police informing them that they are being followed, and any content, including e-mails and published weblogs that can be traced back to them, will be considered criminal activity. The letter demands that the writers cease all internet communication.
IRQR is concerned for the dire situation queer bloggers now face in Iran as the Iranian regime cracks down on the top minds of the queer community. The Iranian queer movement is a peaceful civil rights movement, whose primary goal is the attainment of fundamental human rights: the right to live as legal citizens of their motherland, and without fear of persecution. The execution of queer bloggers is yet one more nail in the coffin of the Iranian queer community. The laws and accepted cultural norms in Iran create extremely harsh conditions for queers who are already leading lives in society’s shadows, and hiding under pseudonyms and stripped of basic civil human rights in Iran. There is an alarming rise of attacks on queer bloggers and the crime of "publishing homosexual materials" which will inevitably end in the demise of writers and civil activists in the queer communities of Iran.
1. (BBC Monitoring, 21 May 1990).
2. Maarten Schild, “Islam,” in Schmitt and Sofer, eds, Sexuality and Eroticism among Males in Moslem Societies (New York: The Haworth Press, 1991), 184.
3. For more information on the Islamic Penal Code on homosexuality, please see the attached document.
4. For more information on the Islamic Penal Code on homosexuality, please see the attached document.
5. Scott Long, “No deportations of LGBT Iranians to Torture,” Human Rights Watch, October 5, 2005, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/10/06/nether14359_txt.htm.
6. Gerdab Website: http://gerdab.ir/home.php
7. Gerdab Website, Mozlemin2: http://gerdab.ir/fa/pages/?cid=157