Internet entrapment of gay men
To catch gay men, the Iranian authorities are increasingly resorting to entrapment via internet chat rooms. They arrange a date online, turn up at the agreed rendezvous point, and then arrest and charge the victim.
This is confirmed by Amir, a 22-year-old gay Iranian from the city of Shiraz, who was arrested by Iran's morality police.
Through a Persian translator, Amir gave the US journalist Doug Ireland a firsthand account of the anti-gay crackdown.
Ireland wrote it up on his blog: http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2005/09/theyll_kill_me_.html
'Amir set up a meeting with a man he met through a Yahoo gay chat room. When his date turned out to be a member of the sex police, Amir was arrested and taken to Intelligence Ministry headquarters, "a very scary place," he says. "There I denied that I was gay - but they showed me a printout from the chat room of my messages and my pictures."
'Then, says Amir, the torture began. "There was a metal chair in the middle of the room - they put a gas flame under the chair and made me sit on it as the metal seat got hotter and hotter. They threatened to send me to an army barracks where all the soldiers were going to rape me. The leader told one of the other officers to take [a soft drink] bottle and shove it up my ass, screaming, 'This will teach you not to want any more cock!' I was so afraid of sitting in that metal chair as it got hotter and hotter that I confessed. Then they brought out my file and told me that I was a 'famous faggot' in Shiraz. They beat me up so badly that I passed out and was thrown, unconscious, into a holding cell.
'"When I came to, I saw there were several dozen other gay guys in the cell with me. One of them told me that after they had taken him in, they beat him and forced him to set up dates with people through chat rooms - and each one of those people had been arrested; those were the other people in that cell with me."
'Eventually tried, Amir was sentenced to 100 lashes. "I passed out before the 100 lashes were over. When I woke up, my arms and legs were so numb that I fell over when they picked me up from the platform on which I'd been lashed. They had told me that if I screamed, they would beat me even harder - so I was biting my arms so hard, to keep from screaming, that I left deep teeth wounds in my own arms."
'After this entrapment and public flogging, Amir's life became unbearable. He was rousted regularly at his home by the basiji (a para-police made up of thugs recruited from the criminal classes and the lumpen unemployed) and by agents of the Office for Promotion of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice, which represses "moral deviance" - things like boys and girls walking around holding hands, women not wearing proper Islamic dress and prostitution.
'Says Amir, "In one of these arrests, Colonel Javanmardi told me that if they catch me again that I would be put to death, 'just like the boys in Mashhad.' He said it just like that, very simply, very explicitly. He didn't mince words. We all know that the boys who were hanged in Mashhad were gay - the rape charges against them were trumped up, just like the charges of theft and kidnapping against them. When you get arrested, you are forced by beatings, torture and threats to confess to crimes you didn't commit. It happens all the time, and has to friends of mine."
This compelling testimony by Amir to Doug Ireland reveals the widespread use of internet entrapment, a threat of execution for mere homosexuality, the torture of gay men to extract false confessions, and the implied admission by an Iranian colonel that the youths in Mashhad were hanged because of their sexuality - and not because they raped and kidnapped, as was officially claimed by the Iranian authorities at the time of their hanging.
Honour killing of LGBTs
In the some parts of Iran the risk of death for homosexuality is extremely high, either at the hands of the security forces or at the hands of the individual's own family. In the south western province of Khuzestan, from which Mahmoud and Ayaz came, a gay man is known as a raguuS or "little dancing boy," a term suggesting effeminacy and sexual passivity. Ewen Macmillan, an expert on life in the Ahwaz region, says:
"RawaagiiS (plural of raaguuS) are generally killed in Ahwaz, by the security forces or by their male kin, in one of three ways: strangulation, throat-slitting or decapitation. If the homosexual youths are killed by the security forces, their corpses -- frequently decapitated but accompanied by their heads -- are left in the street. Their families therefore have a certain tragic incentive to kill them more humanely and bury them secretly. In addition, amongst Iran's Arab minority, male relatives of homosexual youths regard their murder as vindicating the honour of the clan and, indeed, of their ethnic group as a whole. [Name deleted] said that he knew of another youth from al-Aamiri [in Ahwaz], who was a raaguuS, and who had expressed the wish to escape Iran, but who was unfortunately killed before he was able to do so."
In some cases a member of one or other of their own families report them to the authorities, as happened in the case of Mahmoud and Ayaz.
In Khuzestan, this included an instance where a "mother is alleged to have found him (her son) and his lover having sex and informed the authorities. The actions of the mother -- the consequences of which she may at the time have been unaware -- are alleged to have resulted in the killing of her own son."
Another documented case in the same province involved Sayyid RiDa Mussawi. Just as 'Iyaad Marhuuni used the Persian name Ayaz, RiDa used the Persian name Shahraam about town. He was not killed by authorities but beheaded by some his brothers and cousins in 2002 in the city of Ahwaz/Ahvaz. The family members were arrested but they were later released when the parents of Shahraam forgave the killers, as permitted under Shari'a Law. Shahraam was murdered because he became known as a raaguuS and specifically because he was known as the partner of another gay man, who later fled to Britain.
The level of honour killings varies wildly within the country. In Tehran they are said to be rare, but in the western provinces, such as Khuzestan, Luristan and Kurdistan, and in the south eastern province of Baluchistan, they are said to be much more common. Public lynchings of LGBT people by the security forces also seem to be largely confined to the rebellious province of Khuzestan where, as a matter of course, they act outside the legal system with scarcely any restraint or respect for the local population (Khuzestan is inhabited by Ahwazi Arabs, who are a severely persecuted ethnic minority).
Secret executions in prisons
In recent times, many executions for Lavaat (sodomy) seem to be have been conducted inside prisons, rather than in public. These secret executions take place behind closed doors. They are not publicly notified. The local population is unaware they have happened. In the period 1979-89, public executions were much more common. According to a former woman resident of the city of Mashhad, such hangings "were not a rare event and homosexuals were regularly killed like that" when she lived there.
I have uncovered references to a case in 2000 or 2001, where a student was sentenced to death for Lavaat. As is typical, his execution was not publicised. Since it was not publicised, if the death sentence was carried out, it probably took place in prison, not in public. We cannot know for sure that he was hanged, but since his guilt was clear and he had committed same-sex acts repeatedly over a long period of time, it seems unlikely that the sentence was commuted. He was defended by Mr K, who later gave evidence about this case at UK asylum appeal tribunal.
According to Mr K's evidence "The student had been sentenced to death because he had confessed. They had found sperm in his body. There was no way for him but to confess. He had carried out homosexual acts for a long time with another student, and his room mate had realised this and reported it to the people responsible for the dormitories, and they had put the person under surveillance and entered the room at the time he was arrested. He knew he would receive the death sentence and he had confessed."
The Tehran case
On 14 March 2005 two gay men were sentenced to death for consensual Lavaat in Tehran. The younger man, a wrestler, confessed that he had shot a video of them having sex together for the purpose of extortion. Unfortunately, the wrestler's wife found the video and out of curiosity played it. In a fury she took it to the Qazis who watched it as well. Both were arrested brought before the court and sentenced to death. The act committed was presumably anal sex, which is punishable by death for the first offence.
It would appear that only the younger man confessed. Confession by one man would not automatically lead to the conviction of the other. The older man was therefore probably convicted through "knowledge of the judge" under Article 120 of the Penal Code.
In practice, Lavaat is probably much easier to prove without confession than some people think, at least in the case of the passive partner. Medical evidence of penetration may well be sufficient. As we have already heard, 22 year old Amir, from the city of Shiraz, was threatened by the police that if he was sent for a medical examination and they found penetration he would be sentenced to death.
It is not known if or when the sentence in this 14 March case in Tehran was carried out. Stoning is a possible sentence because the young wrestler was married, and stoning is the traditional mode of execution for married people who commit sodomy.
Otherwise, hanging is the normal method of killing 'sodomites.' Although not as cruel as stoning, it should be born in mind that the way it is carried out is designed to ensure that the neck is not broken. Instead, death is induced by slow, painful strangulation. Relatively thin ropes or even wire are often used to maximise suffering. The knot is placed at the side of the neck to prolong the agony. We can see from photographs in the case of Mahmoud and Ayaz that death did not come quickly. The windpipe can take several minutes to be slowly squeezed shut.
The Gorgan case
Another public execution, in November 2005, was in the northern town of Gorgan near the Caspian Sea. The sole internal Iranian press report read as follows: "Execution of two criminals: - Gorgan - Kayhan reporter: Sentence of execution of two people by the name of Mokhtar N and 'Ali A for the crime of homosexuality (Lavaat) came to be carried out in the Shaheed Bahonar Square, Gorgan. The criminal records of these two people [included] kidnapping, knife-wielding, rape (tajaavoz beh 'onf), harassment and fighting. They were aged 24 and 25 respectively."
The men were publicly hanged from two cranes. Unlike the Mashhad hangings in July 2005, photography of the execution was actively discouraged, although a poor quality picture was sent to the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organisation. A report by Iran Focus suggested that the reason for the execution was simply for Lavaat and that the other crimes listed were previous convictions.
It was Iran Focus who spotted this small article, which could easily have been missed. Subsequently Human Rights Watch, who are not fans of Iran Focus, also suggested that the executions were for consensual homosexual conduct.
Amnesty International wrote to the Iranian authorities about the case. As of early February 2006, four months later, they had received no reply. The Dutch Foreign Ministry, who have a cordial relationship with their Iranian counterparts, were given more consideration. The Dutch were assured that the convictions were not for "homosexual relations" but for "kidnapping, rape and extortion." It is worth noting that the Kayhan article makes no mention of extortion in the list of charges.
The details of the Gorgan case are unclear. The cited string of charges could refer to past convictions or to convictions at their trial. Moreover, the article is very badly worded. Either way, this list of charges is all too familiar in gay cases and needs to be treated with suspicion.
Paula Ettelbrick, of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said shortly after these executions: "It's clear that a pattern is emerging in which young men are executed as couples and that the crimes they allegedly committed always involve some form of sexual assault of another male."
The Kermanshah case
Also in November 2005, three men were hanged in a prison in the city of Kermanshah. In this case they were accused of kidnapping and rape (tajaavoz) of a 19 year old.
For more details about this triple execution, and the executions in the preceding Gorgan case, see Doug Ireland's expose: http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2005/11/save_usa_gay_ir.html
This report from Doug Ireland also includes an interview with Mojtaba, a 27 year old gay man from the city of Shiraz. His partner was arrested and Motjaba narrowly escaped arrest by fleeing to Turkey. The fate of his arrested partner is unknown.
Two cases in Mashhad
In the city of Mashhad, there have been two relatively recent cases of pairs of males being executed, at least one of which involved juveniles. Both instances involved an almost identical string of charges. There is the hanging of Mahmoud and Ayaz in July 2005. The other case was at the end of December 2004 and was reported in the Iranian newspaper Kayhan.
Evidence received from people in Mashhad confirms that the hanged gay teenagers, Mahmoud 'Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, were lovers, not rapists as the regime alleges. Moreover, extensive investigations reveal that the regime's claims against the youths are riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions and implausibilities. A major investigative report will be released soon, exposing the fabrications and lies of the Iranian regime concerning these two executed gay teenagers.
In both the Mashhad cases, sodomy charges appear to have been embroidered with additional, non-consensual charges, probably in part to discourage international condemnation and protests. The authorities presumably reasoned that there would not be much international sympathy for people executed for sexual assault.
As we have seen in each of these different cases, whenever men are executed for sodomy, the defendants are invariably accused of the kidnap and rape of a younger male. Such allegations need to be treated with extreme scepticism, as they tend to follow a suspiciously stereotypical formula.
The Arak case
In the city of Arak in Iran, two men were sentenced to death for Lavaat towards the end of August 2005. Their case seems to have been under appeal. The rumour that they were due to be executed on 28 August appears to have been false, as they hadn't even been tried when that rumour first circulated. It was claimed that they were attracted to another man who refused their advances. It was further alleged that they abducted this man and forcibly sodomised him. Some sources within Iran regard this story as plausible. There was medical evidence used to prove penetration, although this penetration could, of course, have been consensual.
Some Iranians are, however, still doubtful and fear that this, too, may be a trumped up charge. One cause of such suspicions is that the alleged victim was said to be the son of an officer. Sources suggest the father was an officer in the regular army, the Artesh. The allegation of forced sex may have been made to save the family the shame of having a 'sodomite' son.
No further information has been forthcoming about the Arak case since last August. We do not know whether these men have been executed or are still on death row.
The tactic of defaming the victims
This current tactic of adding charges of rape, child abuse and kidnap to the sodomy charges against gay and bisexual men is in marked contrast to the early days of the Islamic Republic. In the 1980s, a period when even most western democracies were avowedly homophobic, there was no need to disguise the execution of homosexuals. No one gave a damn. Even Amnesty International ignored the plight of terrorised LGBT people.
Since the early days of theocratic rule in Iran, much of world has moved on, with a growing understanding of LGBT people, and an increased revulsion against homophobic persecution.
The Iranian dictatorship now realises it is not good PR to execute people for merely being gay. That risks an international outcry. To pre-empt condemnation, the Iranians now craftily pin on same-sex lovers additional charges involving paedophilia, violence and rape. It is a clever tactic that has hook-winked even some human rights groups.
There may be a further explanation for the standard Iranian formula of charges of homosexuality being often accompanied by charges of kidnap and rape. The regime clearly does not want its people to view same-sex relations as something a respectable person might engage in with consent. That could present Lavaat as something desirable and positive, and this might encourage tolerance - and even curiosity and experimentation. The clerical regime wants to depict sodomy in the worst possible light to deter and discourage its practice. To do this, it needs to present gay and lesbian people as repellent, dangerous individuals. In these circumstances, the mere charge of Lavaat is not sufficient. To prompt revulsion and support for executions, homosexuality needs to be associated in the public mind with violence and child abuse.
This is a very familiar tactic used by despotic regimes to discredit and marginalise dissidents. History teaches us that scapegoated and demonised minorities are often subjected to false smears and slurs, sometimes of a sexual nature. During the period of segregation in the southern United States, for example, false charges of rape were often pinned on young black men, and these charges were then used to justify lynchings or judicial executions. As we know, the real motive was to punish black men for consensual interracial sex, while 'saving' the reputation of white women.
Claims of rape to avoid execution
Claims of sexual assault by the passive partner are not uncommon in Iranian sodomy cases, as they know this is their only chance of escaping death. I recall a case about 15 to 20 years ago (the full details of which I no longer possess), in which two men who lived with each other were being tried for sodomy. One claimed that the other man had kept forcing him into sodomy and doing to him all manner of other same-sex acts, including forcible fellatio. The other man sat listening to all this impassively, but at one point said words to the effect: "he was a gay and wanted sex." The mullahs believed the latter man and they were both sentenced to death and executed.
Iran's hypocrisy concerning sexual abuse
It would be a serious mistake to think that the regime is genuinely concerned about preventing sexual violence and the sexual abuse of children.
The late ruler of Iran, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, treated lightly the subject of sex with young girls. He said:
"A man can marry a girl younger than nine years of age, even if the girl is still a baby being breastfed. A man, however, is prohibited from having intercourse with a girl younger than nine, other sexual act such as for[e]play, rubbing, kissing and sodomy is allowed. A man having intercourse with a girl younger than nine years of age has not co[m]mitted a crime, but only an infraction, if the girl is not permanently damaged. If the girl, however, is permanently damaged, the man must provide for her all her life." Khomeini himself married his wife, Batul, in 1930 when she was aged ten and he was 28.
Rape of both males and females is not uncommon among those held in custody. Women and girls on death row are often raped by prison guards the night before the execution to ensure they are not virgins and do not go to paradise. Sometimes the Mullahs join in with the prison guards.
Amnesty International has evidence that prisoners are subjected to "various forms of sexual abuse, including rape of both men and women prisoners. Many former prisoners interviewed by Amnesty International became so distressed when asked about sexual abuse that they broke down and could not describe their experiences."
Hypocritically, the regime tacitly sanctions this sexual violation of prisoners. It is a known method of torture, used by the regime to break the will of detainees and to get them to make confessions to crimes, both real and imaginary.
It should not, of course, be suggested that such sexual abuse is unique to Iran or unknown in the supposedly "civilized" West. A gay asylum seeker aged 17, who had fled to Britain in 2002, was repeatedly subjected to sexual assaults by staff at a UK asylum reception centre. This resulted in serious mental trauma.
People of low social status in any country can be abused in this way because the authorities know they won't be deemed to be credible complainants. Just as LGBT people are considered worthless by the regime in Iran, so are asylum seekers in the UK, especially gay asylum seekers. The Home Office views them with suspicion and contempt. Most are refused refugee status.
Another unofficially tolerated form of Lavaat (sodomy) occurs in religious colleges. Iranians tell me that young trainee mullahs will often have sex with each other in such places, with impunity. The rules of Islam are apparently for others, not themselves. It is not just the Anglican and Catholic churches that are full of sexual hypocrisy.
On this evidence, many of Iran's Islamic judges, the Qazis, who pronounce sentences of death on sodomites, are likely to have engaged in same-sex relations.
They order the whipping and hanging of men and teenage boys for acts they have probably done themselves when younger. They are not much different in this respect from skinhead and other 'queer bashers' who attack obvious 'queers' while having guilt-ridden sex within their own peer group.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is qualitatively more homophobic than almost any other state on earth. Its government-promoted and religious-sanctioned torture and execution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people marks out Iran as a state acting in defiance of all agreed international human rights conventions.
British pop band Pet Shop Boys has dedicated its latest album "Fundamental" to Muhammad Askari (Mahmoud Asgari) and Ayaad Marhuni (Ayaz Marhoni), two Ahwazi Arab teenagers executed after being accused of homosexuality. The Pet Shop Boys' album dedication raises the profile of the suppression of ethnic and sexual minorities in Iran.