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Monday, 6 July 2009

Saddam's rule 'better' for gay Iraqis


Investigating reports of the murder and torture of gay men in Iraq, Ashley Byrne found that some gays found Saddam Hussein's dictatorship preferable to the threat of violence they face today.

There has been so much news of death and destruction from Iraq that the position of sexual minorities is rarely touched on in the mainstream media.

But stories of torture and murder of gay Iraqis, particularly men, have been emerging in the gay press for several years.

Investigating these stories for a BBC Radio 5 Live documentary, Gay Life After Saddam, I've heard a range of views about the deteriorating conditions for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people.

Some say the violence has intensified in the past few months. Others say killings run into the hundreds and have been going on since 2003.

What is clear, and confirmed by separate evidence from various human rights groups, is that some gay men have been subjected to appalling violent abuse.

One young Iraqi, Amil (not his real name) recalled the death of a friend: "They found out he was gay and they killed him and they chopped him like a lamb, it was awful."

Another man (who wished to remain anonymous) revealed to Scott Long from the New York-based Human Rights Watch, how his partner was kidnapped and killed.

"It was late one night when four armed men came to take my boyfriend from his parents' house.

They found out he was gay and they killed him and they chopped him like a lamb
Amil, a gay Iraqi

"They were masked and dressed in black.

"We found his body the next day dumped in the garbage, his throat cut out, his genitals cut off."

Of all the shocking testimony we heard, a form of torture involving glue has to be the most awful revelation to emerge from our investigations.

Human Rights Watch researcher Rasha Moumneh told us: "We've heard stories of gay-specific torture where men have glue in their anuses and they force-feed them laxatives."

Gay men inside Iraq have been able to seek sanctuary in safe houses, thanks to the UK-based Iraqi Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) group, which manages them from London.

The documentary team were granted exclusive access to one of the homes on the outskirts of Baghdad, where we found a 31-year-old transsexual man called Qasim (not his real name).

Qasim said: "I'm scared all the time. I often think people are going to come in the night and take me because I am particularly known as gay."

All the LGBT Iraqis interviewed for Gay Life After Saddam maintained that life was easier for them when Saddam Hussein was in power, from 1979 to 2003.

Some spoke fondly of an underground gay culture that flourished before the war in Baghdad.

But it was unclear exactly what Saddam's view on homosexuality was, and there has been some evidence to suggest that the former dictator was acting to clamp down on sexual minorities in the latter years of his reign.

So who is to blame for the violence against LGBT people in Iraq?

Some blame militia, while others accuse religious leaders of stoking up hatred of homosexuals, though some clerics have also recently condemned the attacks on gays.

The Iraqi government and police also deny that there have been any state-sanctioned killings or torture of homosexuals in Iraq.

What is clear however is that gay people in Iraq have not been crushed.

He may be holed up in a safe house but Qasim is hopeful: "I find the Iraqi prime minister quite good.

"I hope he can talk with religious leaders, change the constitution and punish and imprison the murderers."

Meanwhile, the refugee who runs the safe houses from London, Ali Hilli, lives in constant fear of his life after being sent two fatwas, or Islamic religious rulings.

But he has insisted he will not give up trying to help gay people in Iraq.

"If I think too much that someone is going to get me and kill me then I know I'd stop what I'm doing.

"I have to continue because I really believe in the work that I am doing."

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