TV & Radio
Full Story Behind 'Iran Gay Hangings' Mired In Controversy
by Rex Wockner 365Gay.com Editor-At-Large
Posted: August 3, 2005 12:01 am ET
The two male teenagers hanged in Mashad, Iran, July 19 were executed not for having sex with each other, as has been reported, but for raping a 13-year-old boy, Human Rights Watch is claiming.
The New York Times and the Times of London separately reported the same thing.
Mahmoud Asgari, 18, and Ayaz Marhoni, 19, allegedly raped the boy at least 14 months prior to their executions, meaning at least one, and perhaps both, of them were minors at the time.
According to Scott Long, director of HRW's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Project: "On the morning of July 19 -- that is, just before the executions -- a long article in Quds, a Farsi daily published in Mashad, described the case. It is clearly identified there as a rape case, with a lengthy interview with the father of the 13-year-old apparent victim. The account there is that the case dates back two years, that the boy in question was seized outside a shopping area by the two boys ultimately convicted, who took him to a deserted area where five other boys were also waiting. (It's not clear what happened to the five other members of what is described as a gang.) He was gang-raped at knifepoint, according to his father's account, which is supported by three passersby who interrupted the act. Passersby were attacked with knives and had their cars vandalized."
It also now seems that an article from the Iranian Students News Agency, translated and circulated by the London gay group OutRage!, was not the first article about this case, as OutRage! believed, and may not have been translated correctly.
OutRage! had reported that the ISNA article said the boys were executed for consensual gay sex. But HRW says the headline and the first sentence of the article make it clear they were hanged for "sodomy by coercion" ("lavat beh onf"). "Lavat beh onf," HRW said, is an archaic phrase that is not the normal way to refer to rape.
"Ultimately," said HRW's Long, "one has to ask what is the basis for believing that the boys were tried for consensual sodomy. It boils down to an English-language article on the Iran Focus Web site having made no mention of the rape charge. There is no other substantial evidence."
OutRage! continues to disagree. (Historically, both OutRage! and Human Rights Watch have proven to be reliable sources.)
"The ISNA report seen by our contacts in Iran makes no mention of rape or of a 13-year-old boy. It states they were hung for homosexual acts," OutRage! leader Peter Tatchell said this week. "OutRage!'s sources for our reportage of this story include clandestine gay and lesbian activists inside Iran, members of the democratic and left Iranian opposition, and the Web sites of government-sanctioned news agencies in Iran.
"We work with many exiled gay Iranians in London," Tatchell said. "They confirm that smears and torture against gay people are routine in Iran. Whenever the regime wants to deflect criticism, it trumps up charges of alcoholism, adultery, rape and drug abuse against the victims of its brutality.
"OutRage! is aware of other cases in the region where a false claim of rape has been used by parents to spare a family the shame of having a gay son and to save him from imprisonment and/or execution."
Iran's Shariah-law capital offenses include murder, rape, armed robbery, apostasy, blasphemy, serious drug trafficking, repeated sodomy, adultery, prostitution, treason and espionage, according to Agence France-Presse.
Concern In Europe, U.S..
Meanwhile, the European Union Presidency, currently held by the United Kingdom, has denounced the executions.
"The European Union wishes to convey its deep concern over reports of a public execution of two youths in Mashad on 19 July 2005 despite the fact that one of the youths, Mahmoud Asqary, was aged under 18 at both the time of the crime and the execution," the Presidency said.
"The EU recalls its long-held position that capital punishment may not, in any circumstances, be imposed on persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of their crime. Such a punishment is in direct contravention of Iran's obligations under the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] and also the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child."
In the U.S., three members of the U.S. House of Representatives have written to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanding she get to the bottom of the story.
"We write to express our concerns over the recent execution of two gay teenagers in northeastern Iran," said U.S. Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Tom Lantos, D-Calif. "The exact details of the case remain unclear, and because the conflicting reports about the nature of the charges against the two boys make it difficult to react appropriately, we urge the State Department to do everything it can to clarify the circumstances of this case.
"Initial reports were that the 16-year-old and 18-year-old boys ... were punished for homosexual activity with each other," the congressmen said. "In other reports, the Iranian authorities claim the teenagers were accused of raping a 13-year-old boy. Some human rights groups suspect that this charge may have been trumped up as an excuse for the brutal treatment of gay people and to undermine public sympathy for the boys."
The representatives urged Rice to investigate and clarify the facts surrounding the execution of the two teens, "including whether the charges and the conviction were due to their homosexuality, and if they were, [to] issue a strong condemnation of this brutal killing."
They also urged Rice to "condemn Iran for its national policy of persecution of its citizens based on sexual orientation."
Back in Europe, the Netherlands' Immigration and Naturalization Office announced July 28 that it will no longer expel illegal Iranian immigrants who are gay, pending completion of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs study on the situation of gays in Iran.
Gay Life In Iran
Is gay life in Iran as dire as some reports on this case suggest?
According to a new interview with the publishers of the Iranian gay magazine MAHA conducted by the Web site GayRussia.ru, it is not.
The magazine is distributed from inside Iran via e-mail in PDF format. (If it were published on the Web or in traditional magazine format, it likely would be blocked or banned by the government.) The magazine has 600 subscribers.
"After eight months of hard work, eight issues and four supplements have appeared, covering issues such as gays and family, depression among GLBT, a report about lesbians in Iran, etc.," the publishers wrote in the e-mail interview. "MAHA also publishes a separate supplement for gay aid and to help GLBT to find a friend. Today MAHA has two editors, one gay and one lesbian, and MAHA's readers are all over the country and even some Iranian GLBT in exile."
The publishers said gays are no longer routinely persecuted in Iran.
"The regime does not systematically persecute gays anymore, there are still some gay Web sites, there are some parks and cinemas where everyone knows that these places are meeting places for gays," they wrote. "Furthermore it is legal in Iran that a transsexual applies for sex change and it is fully accepted by the government.
"There are some media which sometimes -- not often -- write about such issues. Having said that, the Islamic law, according to which gay punishment is death, is still in force, but it is thought [to be] not much followed by the regime nowadays.
"Thanks to the Internet and contact with the international community, people get the info, and Iran society has changed a lot, and support for GLBT rights is growing in Iran, though we still have a long way to go," the publishers said. "On the whole, we are optimistic about the future as Iran's situation cannot continue [as is] and people are pushing for reforms and changes."