by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
'Members of sexual minorities in Iran are hounded on all sides. The laws are stacked against them; the state openly discriminates against them; and they are vulnerable to harassment, abuse, and violence because their perpetrators feel they can target them with impunity.'
So says Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
'Iran is not only one of the rare countries that imposes the death penalty for consensual same-sex relations, it also has people sitting on death row who allegedly committed sodomy as minors,' Whitson continues.
'Every time the Iranian judiciary issues a death sentence for consensual sex, or against a juvenile offender, it is violating its international legal obligations.'
On December 15, Human Rights Watch issued a new report titled We are a Buried Generation: Discrimination and Violence Against Sexual Minorities in Iran.
Based on testimony from more than 100 Iranians, the 102-page report documents abuses 'against LGBT people and others whose sexual practices and gender expression do not conform to government-endorsed socio-religious norms.'
Human Rights Watch analyzed these abuses against the backdrop of the Iranian government's general human rights violations against its whole population - Gay and straight - including arbitrary arrests and detentions, invasions of privacy, mistreatment and torture of detainees, and lack of due-process and fair-trial guarantees.
'Iran's security forces, including police and forces of the hard-line paramilitary basij [militia], rely upon discriminatory laws to harass, arrest, and detain individuals whom they suspect of being Gay,' Human Rights Watch found.
Anti-LGBT incidents often occur in public spaces like parks and cafés, but Human Rights Watch also documented cases in which security forces raided private homes and monitored internet sites to catch people they suspected of engaging in non-conforming sexual conduct or gender expression.
The report also documents instances in which police and basij abused - and in some cases tortured - real or perceived LGBT people, both in public spaces and detention facilities.
Several individuals told Human Rights Watch that members of the Iranian security forces had sexually assaulted or raped them.
For example, a man identified only as 'Navid,' a Gay café-owner, told Human Rights Watch that he was attacked on the street by two basij agents.
The men stopped him as he was leaving work, Navid said, handcuffed him, and drove him to his home. There they pushed him out of the car, beat him, and forced him inside, where they sexually assaulted him.
'[One of them] forced his penis inside my mouth,' he said. 'I threw up and dirtied myself. They dragged me into the bathroom and washed me down with cold water. The whole time they continued to beat me all over.'
The agents then took him to another location where '[One of the agents] took my clothes off. He then raped me with a flashlight and a baton. He just pushed me down to the ground and raped me. The other two joined in.'
The report also documents serious due-process violations that occurred during the prosecution of LGBT persons charged with crimes.
Iranians charged with engaging in consensual same-sex offenses stand little chance of receiving a fair trial, Human Rights Watch found.
Judges ignore penal code evidentiary guidelines in sodomy cases and often rely instead on confessions extracted through physical torture and extreme psychological pressure.
Both Iranian and international law consider such evidence inadmissible.
In other cases, courts have convicted defendants of sodomy charges solely on the basis of 'the knowledge of the judge' as 'derived through customary methods.' This provision of Iran's penal code enables judges to rely on circumstantial evidence to determine whether a crime has occurred even if other evidence is lacking.
Iran is one of only seven countries with laws allowing executions for consensual same-sex conduct. The others are Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.
Iranian newspapers and media outlets have published many accounts of executions for same-sex conduct since the 1979 Iranian revolution.
According to Human Rights Watch, the overwhelming majority of Iranians who have been executed or are now on death row are men charged with sodomy, including juvenile offenders who were under 18 when they allegedly committed the act.
The Iranian government maintains that most of these prisoners have been charged for forcible sodomy or rape.
Because trials on morals charges in Iran are usually held in private, it was difficult for Human Rights Watch to determine what proportion of those charged and executed for same-sex conduct are LGBT and in what proportion the alleged offense was consensual.
Because of this lack of transparency, Human Rights Watch said, it cannot be ruled out that Iran is executing LGBT persons who engage in consensual same-sex relations under the pretext that they committed forcible sodomy or rape.
Human Rights Watch found 'a very noticeable disconnect between Iran's official stance against sexual minorities and the realities on the ground, especially in Iran's larger urban areas.'
'Despite President Ahmadinejad's 2007 declaration that Iran has no Gay people, thousands of Iranians identify themselves as LGBT, socialize in public and private, and contribute to vibrant and defiant LGBT communities in the Persian-language blogosphere,' Human Rights Watch said.
Since 1979, the Iranian government has implemented several policies designed to deal with the complex realities of sexual orientation and gender identity in Iran today.
For example, the state legally recognizes Transgender Iranians - even paying for sex reassignment surgery.
It also allows Gays, Transgender males, or men who have sex with men to apply for a 'behavioral disorder' exemption from military service if they can prove they are Gay or Transgender.
'But while these policies may accommodate, or even benefit some, they aim ultimately to control and enforce conformity,' Human Rights Watch said.
At times they may expose sexual minorities to further harassment, abuse, blackmail, extortion, and torture.
'Abolishing Iran's discriminatory laws and policies is critical to ensuring protection of its vulnerable sexual minorities,' Whitson said. 'Those who perpetrate violence against Iran's sexual minorities do so because they know that their victims have nowhere to turn for protection or justice.'
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