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Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Iraq’s Newly Open Gays Face Scorn and Murder


BAGHDAD — The relative freedom of a newly democratic Iraq and the recent improvement in security have allowed a gay subculture to flourish here. The response has been swift and deadly.

In the past two months, the bodies of as many as 25 boys and men suspected of being gay have turned up in the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City, the police and friends of the dead say. Most have been shot, some multiple times. Several have been found with the word “pervert” in Arabic on notes attached to their bodies, the police said.

“Three of my closest friends have been killed during the past two weeks alone,” said Basim, 23, a hairdresser. “They had been planning to go to a cafe away from Sadr City because we don’t feel safe here, but they killed them on the way. I had planned to go with them, but fortunately I didn’t.”
Basim, who preferred to be called “Basima” — the feminine version of his name — wears his hair long for Iraq. It falls to just below the ear. His ears are pierced, uncommon for Iraqi males. White makeup covers his face, a popular look for gay men in Sadr City who say they prefer light skin.
Though risky, his look is one result of the overall calm here that has allowed Iraqis to enjoy freedoms unthinkable two years ago: A growing number of women walk the streets unveiled, a few even daring to wear dresses above the knee. Families gather in parks for cookouts, and more people have begun to venture out at night.

But that has not changed the reality that Iraq remains religious, conservative — and still violent. The killers, the police say, are not just Shiite death squads, but also tribal and family members shamed by their gay relatives. (And the recent spate of violence has seemed aimed at more openly gay men, rather than homosexuality generally.)

Clerics in Sadr City have urged followers to help root out homosexuality in Iraqi society, and the police have begun their own crackdown on gay men.
“Homosexuality is against the law,” said Lt. Muthana Shaad, at a police station in the Karada district, a neighborhood that has become popular with gay men. “And it’s disgusting.”

For the past four months, he said, officers have been engaged in a “campaign to clean up the streets and get the beggars and homosexuals off them.”

Gay men, he said, can be arrested only if they are seen engaging in sex, but the police try to drive them away. “These people, we make sure they can’t get together in a coffee shop or walk together in the street — we make them break up,” he said.

Gay men and lesbians in Iraq have long been among the targets of both Shiite and Sunni death squads, but their murders have been overshadowed by the hundreds of overall weekly casualties during the height of sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007.

In 2005, the country’s most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a religious decree that said gay men and lesbians should be “punished, in fact, killed.” He added, “The people should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.” The language has since been removed from his Web site.

In recent months, groups of gay men have been taking greater chances, gathering in cafes and other public places in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf and other cities. On a recent night in Sadr City, several, their hair parted down the middle, talked as they quietly sipped tea at a garishly lighted cafe, oblivious to the stares of passers-by.

Basim, who would not give his last name out of fear for his safety, said he knew at least 20 young men from Sadr City’s large but hidden gay community who had disappeared during the past two months. He said he had learned later that each was found dead. After three of his friends were killed, he stayed inside his house for a week. Recently he has begun to go out again.

“I can’t stay at home all day,” he said. “I need to see my friends.”
Publicly, the Iraqi police have acknowledged only the deaths of six gay men in the neighborhood. But privately, police officials say the figure is far higher.

The chief of a Sadr City police station, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to reporters, said family members had probably committed most of the Sadr City killings. He played down the role of death squads that had once been associated with the Mahdi Army, the militia that controlled Sadr City until American and Iraqi forces dislodged them last spring.

“Our investigation has found that these incidents are being committed by relatives of the gays — not just because of the militias,” he said. “They are killing them because it is a shame on the family.”

He said families typically refused to cooperate with the investigation or even to claim the bodies. No arrests have been made in the killings.
At the same time, though, clerics associated with Moktada al-Sadr, an anti-American cleric with significant influence in Sadr City, have devoted a portion of Friday Prayer services to inveighing against homosexuality.

“The community should be purified from such delinquent behavior like stealing, lying and the effeminacy phenomenon among men,” Sheik Jassem al-Mutairi said during his sermon last Friday. Homosexuality, he said, was “far from manhood and honesty.”

Abu Muhaned al-Diraji, a Sadrist official in Sadr City, said the clerics were in no way encouraging people to kill gay men.

“All we are doing is giving advice to people to take care of their sons,” Mr. Diraji said. He acknowledged, however, that some of the killing had been committed by members of “special groups,” or death squads.

“In general, it is the families that are killing the gay son, but I know that there are gunmen involved in this, too,” he said. “But we disavow anybody committing this kind of crime and we encourage the people to follow the law.”

In addition to the killings, a Sadr City cafe frequented by gay men recently burned down under mysterious circumstances.

Some young gay men in Sadr City have become nihilistic about the ever present threat.

“I don’t care about the militias anymore, because they’re going to kill me anyway — today, tomorrow or the day after,” said a man named Sa’ad, who has been taking estrogen and has developed small breasts. “I hate my community and my relatives. If they had their way, the result would be one gunshot.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/08/world/middleeast/08gay.html?hp

Friends can send Donations to IRAQI LGBT: The immediate urgent priority is to Support and Donate Money to LGBT activists in Iraq in order to assist their efforts to help other Lesbians, Gay, Bisexuals and Trans gender Iraqi's facing death, persecution and systematic Targeting by the Iraqi Police and Badr and Sadr Militia and to raise awareness about the wave of homophobic murders in Iraq to the outside world. Funds raised will also help provide LGBTs under threat of killing with refuge in the safer parts of Iraq (including safe houses, food, electricity, medical help) and assist efforts help them seek refuge in neighbouring countries.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

URGENT - Iraq: Letter From a Member of Iraqi LGBT who Pleads for Help “Before It’s Too Late”

Is there anyone to help me before it’s too late? That is the question asked by a member of Iraqi-LGBT in Baghdad, who says he is to be executed, in a letter released at the weekend by Iraqi-LGBT in London.

The handwritten letter in Arabic was received by the group in London last week, the writer claiming that he has received the death sentence for belonging to Iraqi-LGBT – a banned organisation in the country.

Releasing the letter to UK Gay News, Iraqi-LGBT requested independent translation – and this was done by two separate translators in the USA.

“We are confident that the letter is genuine,” Ali Hili said, adding that the name on the letter is known to him.

“I have known this person for the past 18 months,” he said.

“At the moment, we think that there are five gays among the 128 people who are reported to be awaiting execution,” Mr. Hili said.

And he added that while the Ministry of Interior is officially denying that there are five people sentenced to death for having contact with Iraqi-LGBT, he has spoken to someone in the Ministry who has confirmed the five death sentences.

In the letter released by Iraqi-LGBT in London, the writer claims that at his court case he was not permitted to defend himself, or even get legal representation.

It is virtually impossible to check on the authenticity of the letter, which translated into English, with names and an address removed, says:

Call for help.

“My name is [name and address removed], Baghdad, Iraq.

I was detained at my residence December 15, 2008 after midnight, by the Ministry of Interior.

During the detention process, they hit me on the head and my rear end to make me confess that I am a member of the Iraqi-LGBT.

Later on the Ministry of Interior transferred me to the criminal justice court in al Karkh, and after a short trial I was sentenced to death.

I was sentenced without given the chance to defend myself or to hire an attorney. Two days later I was returned to the same place and was told that the execution will take place in two weeks.

Please pass this message to [my friend] in London. I just wish to tell him not to forget about my mother and siblings, I was their only supporter.

I am all hopeful that Allah will show Iraqis a life with no death sentences.
And lastly, I ask you for help.

Is there anyone to help me before it is too late?”
video

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Gays killed in Baghdad as clerics urge clampdown





BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two gay men were killed in Baghdad's Sadr City slum, a local official said on Saturday, and police said they had found the bodies of four more after clerics urged a crackdown on a perceived spread of homosexuality.


Homosexuality is prohibited almost everywhere in the Middle East, but conditions have become especially dangerous for gays and lesbians in Iraq since the rise of religious militias after U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein six years ago.


"Two young men were killed on Thursday. They were sexual deviants. Their tribes killed them to restore their family honor," a Sadr City official who declined to be named said.


The police source who declined to be named said the bodies of four gay men were unearthed in Sadr City on March 25, each bearing a sign reading "pervert" in Arabic on their chests.


Sermons condemning homosexuality were read at the last two Friday prayer gatherings in Sadr City, a sprawling Baghdad slum of some 2 million people. The slum is a bastion of support for fiery Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army militia.


The Mehdi Army has frozen its activities over the last year and government forces have wrested control of the slum.


Many young men who might have cut their hair short and grown beards when religious gangs controlled much of Iraq now dress in a more Western style as government forces take back control.


Some are now accused of being gay, and residents of Sadr City say at least one coffee shop has become a gay hangout.


A member of the slum's Sadrist office said the Mehdi Army was not involved in the killings, but said homosexuality was now more widespread since the Mehdi Army lost control of the slum.
"This (homosexuality) has spread because of the absence of the Mehdi Army, the spread of sexual films and satellite television and a lack of government surveillance," said the office's Sheikh Ibrahim al-Gharawi, a Shi'ite cleric.


Homosexual acts are punishable by up to seven years in prison in Iraq. A gay Iraqi man said any alleged crimes should be left to the law to deal with.


"If they've committed a crime, then there is the law. Killing is a big sin," he said, giving his name as Laith.