I have always wondered if keeping silent about the status quo can lead to peace of mind, or whether a scream in protesting the misery caused by certain events is a more logical response. Despite the heterogeneity of Iranian society in general and Iranian queer community in particular, sometimes the oppressive events of the day force us to action.
Though a small number of sexual minorities in Iran do not have any problem with police, security and their families, they are the exception. There are still many in the Iranian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community who are struggling with huge hardships due to family interference and government oppression. The almost daily news of the arrest, humiliation, and torture of Iranian LGBT community members enrages me, and I am concerned by the reaction of our community as it deals with horrifying murders and savage executions committed in the name of “the law”.
Generally speaking, the reaction from the Iranian community at large falls into two camps: those who feel that organizational activity and resistance by the Iranian LGBT community would provoke a strong government reaction, which in turn could lead to an international reaction against Iran as a whole, and those who seek a return of their full civil rights.
The difference between the first and second group is that the second is not under pressure from the government due to their sexual orientation. I believe they can be asked to demonstrate for our full civil rights, as well. This crucial point could inspire us to express ourselves and demand what we want, instead of keeping silent. During the last few months, Iran has seen the brutal arrest and prosecution of women’s rights activists.
Concurrently, Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO) has encouraged the queer community and its supporters to begin petitions and seek popular support. Interestingly, these people were not anxious about an international military action against the Iranian regime due to human rights violations. I signed all their petitions, because I believe human rights are for everybody, not for one particular group. In spite of this, my name and those of other activists were erased from those lists due to concerns about the general situation in Iran.
There is no comment on the following pictures. The two are homosexual and they have been prosecuted because of their sexual orientation. There is no disputing this as we possess copies of their tribunal documents regarding their verdicts and sentences.
I ask you, should we keep silent? Should we paint a false picture of their daily life situation? Certainly silence is not an option. Probably we should even be laouder. They received eighty lashes; I doubt that I would be able to endure one. I admire their courage. After getting his punishment, one of the men asked the person who executed this barbaric sentence, whether he felt closer to the god by this savagery or not. These pictures were taken in May (2007), and a month after the lashing. When I called them by phone of the first day, they were not able to talk. Because of the pain they could not even sleep.
Farsad is 26 years old and Farnam is 24, (their names have been changed to protect their identities, as they have long been in contact with IROQ). Their lives, like many, if not all the other LGBTs in Iran, is miserable. Farsad lost his father at fifteen and his mother re-married a revolutionary guard member (a military organism developed by the Iranian regime), which itself is a bitter story. “since childhood I could not find any attraction to the opposite sex; yes of course I am a homosexual.” Farsad says.
At 21, in order to meet other people like himself, he set up a successful weblog. The secret police found his address through his IP and arrested him. He spent three weeks in solitary confinement, and then he was accused of obscenity, advocating decadent values and homosexuality. They sentenced him to six month in prison. After completing his sentence he suffered from depression and phobia about revealing his identity and going back to prison, with symptoms so debilitating he was hospitalized. Then his diary was found by his stepfather, who demanded Farsad denounce his homosexuality.
When Farsad resisted, his step-father took him to Qom (a holly city in Iran, and a center of Ayatollahs) to be seen by the grand ayatollahs; He spent a few nights in custody, was humiliated by the security forces there. They threatened him with stoning unless he denounced his homosexuality.
Traumatized by the threats, he was then taken to see a grand ayatollah, where he signed his confession and forgiveness plea. He was then returned to Tehran, where he received 95 lashes before being released. Almost as an afterthought, he was questioned by the supreme leader’s office in the university where he was studying — and was expelled from school, as well.
Last winter, he met Farnam in a gay chat room. After corresponding they moved in together to start life as a couple, in disguise but together. They invited a small group of their friends to celebrate this union. Just fifteen minutes after the party began, the police broke into their house and arrested everyone. They were brutally beaten, says Farsad, and then transported to a police detention center. They spent the entire Persian new year holidays in a prison cell. “We were beaten to the point that my spine hurt permanently; I still feel the pain caused by the fists pounding my face”, Farsad says.
They were accused of advocating decadency, homosexuality and prostitution. Because they were arrested together, the authorities insisted on more details about their relationship. During the police interrogation, they were asked, “Did you have sexual intercourse with each other?” They did not admit to this question, and eventually they were sentenced for having an improper relationship, for which they received 80 lashes. All other guests were released conditionally and they were ordered to remain in the city and not get in-touch wiht each other.
Two weeks before the execution of their sentence, the party attendees were arrested again and were sentenced to 60 lashes each, which all received in the same day. Farsad and Farnam were told that 80 lashes was just for holding the party, and that their sentence for the improper relationship would be executed later.
Under increasing pressure from their families, and the government’s threat of reopening their older files, which could lead to a possible death sentence, they decided to escape the country, and now are waiting to be transferred to a safe, gay friendly country. IRQO has been actively following their case and is pursuing it in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We hope one day full civil rights are granted to the LGBT community all over the world.