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Saturday, 25 September 2010

Iran: fleeing torture and possible execution, an interview with a gay asylum seeker in Turkey

GREEN CRYImage by FALTO via Flickr  Source: mehriran

The Islamic Republic Iran doesn't like deviations from its state ideology. There are elitist regime circles who would like to impose certain rules concerning life style, sexuality, dress-code, behaviour or believes to the whole population of Iran.

Besides Bahai, Sunnis, Yogis or Sufis who face a brutal state campaign against their way of life and their believes, there are several other groups in Iran who are being harassed or excluded from social life by law.

Gays and lesbians will face death sentences according to article 110 of Iran's penal code. Many of these persons have left Iran to seek asylum in countries that are tolerant in this concern. One of them is Matin Yar, who is a refugee from Iran, waiting in Turkey to be granted asylum in a western country.

We would like to introduce our readers in his situation by asking him a few questions. The interview could be done with the help of Saghi Ghahraman, whom we also asked some questions concerning her work. "From which part of the country do you come from?"

Matin Yar: "I come from a small village in one of central provinces of Iran. I finished high school in the same village, and was spending time with my relatives in an small town close to the village when I was arrested with accusations of same-sex rape, which I hadn’t done and had only confessed under severe and unbearable tortures. I didn’t even sign the confession sheet because my hands were wounded and swollen from being hanged hours after hours, and beaten by clubs; my interrogator signed the sheet." "Is there anything you love about Iran?"

Matin Yar: "I don’t like anything about Iran, I deeply dislike the country." "Why did you have to leave Iran?"

Matin Yar: "When I left Iran, I was released on bail to await trail for sodomy act. It was right under a year, and I was summoned to the police station for questions and answers. I guessed that the trial would take place soon. Fearing the trial, and another round of tortures, and a possible execution sentence, I left Iran to seek asylum in a transit country." "What is your situation right now?"

Matin Yar: "I am waiting refugee status at present. I have been interviewed twice by the UNHCR but hasn’t received results yet. I am anxious, in a very disturbed state of mind. I fear deportation back to Iran. I am suffering from memories of tortures I experienced while in jail during the two months I was being interrogated." "Who is helping you?"

Matin Yar: "Iranian Queer Organization – IRQO is following up with the legal procedures of my case and has been in communications with the UNHCR on behalf of me. But I don’t have any resources for financial support, as I need to pay monthly expenses for food and lodging." "What is the importance of being queer for you?"

Matin Yar: "All I know is that I am homosexual. I don’t know anything else. I have grown up feeling shame and embarrassment for what I was. There is no importance in being queer, but the fact that I am being loathed and insulted all my life just because I was in-love with my best friend, a boy of my own age, being called names and being laughed at, bothers me. I’ve been tortured, and raped, and was very close to get an execution order, only because I was gay. This has scarred me for life. This is the importance of being gay for me. But beside from the fact of my nightmares, I love the way I am. I am happy with the way I am." "How do people react when they hear about your situation? Any Examples?"

Matin Yar: "People, whom I contact and ask for help, or simply talk to them on-line, mostly Westerners, are very kind, and feel how I am in need of support. When I speak about my experiences, they always offer to help me. Just like yourself, journalists, or human rights activists, listen to my story, and follow up to see how they can help me." "What would you like for yourself for the future?"

Matin Yar: "I want to study, have a good job, and help gay people from my country, who are living with the same fear as I do." "What would you like for Iran for the future?"

Matin Yar: "I wish Iran is freed from the regime that is brutal and oppresses its own people."

Interview with Saghi Ghahraman, president of the Iranian Queer Organisation who lives in Canada and supports Matin Yar. "Could you please describe what are the goals of IRQO?"

Saghi Ghahraman: "IRQO is a union of like-minded human rights activists - gay, lesbian and straight - who are committed to attaining and maintaining the civil and human rights of the Iranian LGBT community living in Iran and abroad. In IRQO we are working for decriminalizing homosexuality. Our goal is to have tolerance and understanding of Homosexuality and Tran-sexuality in Iranian culture inside and outside of Iran. The work IRQO does in extended, because of the needs and the circumstances to advocate and support Iranian LGBT refugees in transit and host countries." "Why and when was IRQO founded?"

Saghi Ghahramn: "IRQO was founded in 2007. We came together as we realized increasing number of our Iranian LGBT members were being forced to flee Iran due to torture and fear of execution and lack of social justice which deprives them of most basic human and civil rights. Meanwhile those who chose to stay and live in Iran have been subjected to executions, torture, sex changes and humiliations by their family and the society. The Islamic republic of Iran considers homosexuality illegal and their laws are in total violation of articles 1,2,3,5, 7,9,10, 11,12,13,19, 20, 26, 28, 29, and 30 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. IRQO is committed to serve the Iranian LGBT refugee community whose number has increased by 25% as of last year." "What kind of activities are the members of IRQO up to?"

Saghi Ghahramn: "We are involved in ALL aspects of Iranian LGBT community whether inside or outside of Iran. We assist our clients who are refugees seeking asylum in Europe, Canada, and the USA; we are involved in promoting as well as archiving our LGBT history through: 1. Blogs, our own and other media blogs such as Radio Zamaneh, Koocheh, etc., 2. IRQO's publication called Cheraq Magazine, and 3. Establishing of an online LGBT bookstore and library; we work closely with other human rights groups such as Human Rights Reporters of Iran, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, Human Rights Watch, etc. to globalize our voice and our message; we help promote and educate people about the Iranian LGBT community that exist inside Iran." "How many persons do you estimate concern themselves to be queer in Iran?"

Saghi Ghahramn: "There is no data on this issue and only some of the transsexual members of the LGBT community are registered officially with state appointed institutions. There aren’t any way to find out the number of gay and lesbians in Iran as they live extremely low profile and underground. There is absolutely no number of bi-sexual as the term is not even defined in Farsi; it is used to define another meaning. But, it is known generally that 7 percent of any population is homosexual. That’s as much as we can say. More then that, we know that during the last decade, the LGBT community in Iran has been considered loud, even though via multiple pseudonyms and only on-line, and only in larger cities, and that is enough to know that We Are Many." "How many have fled?"

Saghi Ghahramn: "According to our records in IRQO, in every given year we have about a hundred seeking asylum in Turkey, or other countries such as Malaysia, India, Pakistan, and European and North American countries. In addition to the number of asylum seekers, there is a large number that leave Iran to study in the west, and normally, they plan to go back and reside in Iran." "How many are in similar situations as Matin Yar?"

Saghi Ghahramn: "Almost every LGBT asylum seeker in Turkey is in the similar condition as Matin. But not everyone who has left Iran has experienced jail and execution order, as he did." "Why are these persons under threat in Iran?"

Saghi Ghahramn: "According to article 110 of Iran’s Penal code, homosexuality, or sexual encounter between two willing mature men or women is punishable by death. The judge will choose the form of execution. The only difference between men and women homosexual in receiving punishment is that women are executed after the fourth time they are arrested with the same charges. But that’s not all of what homosexuals face in Iran. The tragedy is that families too, are tolerant of the idea of having a homosexual child. Homosexual adolescents learn early in life that they must hide their identity as best as they can, to escape parental punishment and furry. Many times, parents also kill their own children as a form of honour killing, or they kick them out to live out in the street, or, in some cases where parents are more educated,  they leave their children with therapists and in clinics to undergo electroshock in order to “make them straight”. These young men and women are forced to take treatment and take heavy medication for years. Many carry the scars of the shock-therapy, and the pills, for many years afterwards. Parental abuse of their children and their insistence of the changing them into “normal”, we believe, is in most part due to the fear of the penal code that will arrest and execute homosexuals and bring shame to the whole family. We believe that had it not been for the regime’s hostile attitude towards homosexuality, and homosexuals human and civil rights, it would be easy to educate parents and the society in general about the individual right of the LGBT individuals to live and love a partner of the same sex, within the boundaries of the ethics the main stream society practices. Homosexuals and transsexuals are no different of their brothers and sisters with respect to morality and chastity if they are given the chance. In addition to the abuse gays and lesbians and transsexuals experience from the system and society, their immediate family, they have not much chance of pursuing education, acquiring a carrier, and having a home and a family. This means that a homosexual or a transsexual is not allowed to live, they only survive under harsh and hopeless circumstances." "What would you like Europeans to do in favour of these persons?"

Saghi Ghahramn: "Both pressuring and reasoning with the system and the government of Iran to remove punishment for homosexuality from the penal code is one way to convey that as the signatory of the Human treaty, it has a responsibility to carry out those rules; also what European countries can do and we urge them to do is to open their doors to the gay and lesbian and transsexuals who have no other choice but to run away from life threatening situations, and need to be resettled in safe and supportive countries. Although there is understanding in the west and especially in Europe about the conditions for homosexuals in Iran, many times, home offices in the European countries made it impossible for LGBT asylum seekers to find refuge in these countries. In IRQO we are in constant contact with the homosexual and transsexual community in Iran, we are a witness of the face that unless they are harshly threatened and forced out of their homes, none of them want to leave their family and flee. Homosexuals are more then any other Iranian emotionally depended to their parents, and their circle of friends. No Iranian gay or lesbian or trans has so far left Iran without being faced with choices between execution or suicide. European countries, if acknowledge the abused human rights of the Iranian LGBT, and give them refuge, can save lives.

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