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Ali must travel!

Iraqi LGBT is being blocked from advocating for the group by the UK government — find out how you can help.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ali Hili campaign update

First campaign coverage in Middle East, first direct comment by government on case

Labour's election web campaign supremo asks Johnson to act
1000 sign petition in fortnight, hundreds of letters to Johnson

A major middle east news source has written about the campaign for Ali Hili and Iraqi LGBT, the first major news outlet for the region to cover the campaign.

The Media Line also secured the first direct comment on Hili's case from the UK government. They said that it is being dealt with by UK Border Agency (UKBA) Case Resolution Directorate and “the reason it hasn’t been prioritised is because it doesn’t fall into one of the priority categories listed on our website.”

When applying for his case to be prioritised, Hili's solicitor Barry O'Leary explained that he needed to travel to fulfill speaking engagements which would directly aid lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) suffering terror in Iraq through publicising their cause.

Six months later, and interpreting those "priority categories", the UKBA told O'Leary that:
  • the assistance which Hili has given to the Foreign Office (and mentioned in their 2009 Human Rights Report) "does not count"
  • the fatwa (death threat against him) does not mean that Hilli "falls within the classification of clear and immediate vulnerability"
  • that the delay in deciding Hilli's asylum case (since July 2007) "is not in itself an exceptional circumstance"
  • his case is not "compelling"
The UKBA explanation is in contradiction to the response given to MP Clare Short, prompted to write by a constituent. She was told by Gail Adams, West Midlands Regional Director of the UKBA that "information contained in applications to the UKBA is treated as being strictly confidential and is not normally disclosed to third parties."

Campaigners are determined to get the British Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, to intervene and order Hili's case prioritised - as he is able to do. 
  • They would like it to become an issue in the UK election. 
  • They say that the lack of resolution and consequent inability to travel and meet politicians and journalists in places such as Washington DC, Brussels and Madrid directly affects LGBT who are suffering a pogrom which continues in the country.
  • Iraqi LGBT say they will be releasing a video next month which addresses the ongoing campaign against LGBT, particularly in Iraq's south, a region formally under the control of the British. They say that in recent weeks there have been a number of murders of young gays.
Within a fortnight of the launch of the campaign, over 1000 people have signed an international petition. Over 250 mainly Americans have used change.org to send a message demanding intervention from the UK Home Secretary. Campaigners say they are aware of over 100 other letters going to both Alan Johnson and Gordon Brown.

And Iraqi LGBT have been informed that a number of MPs have asked Johnson to act, including the head of Labour's web campaign for the general election Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East.
The author Stella Duffy posted a link to the campaign on her Facebook page.

Besides The Media Line, a number of other blogs and websites covering Iraq have featured the case and support has come from many Iraqis.

Further coverage of Hili's case and the plight of LGBT in Iraq has come from a wide variety of media around the world.

For further information please email paul@iraqilgbt.org.uk


The Media Line: Published Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Iraqi Gay Pleads to UK: Give Me Asylum

Written by Rachelle Kliger

Supporters of an Iraqi gay activist are pressing the UK government to grant him asylum papers so he can continue to promote rights of the Iraqi LGBT community.

Gay rights supporters have launched a campaign pressuring the UK government to grant asylum to a prominent Iraqi gay rights activist who has fled to Britain.

Ali Hili, director of Iraqi LGBT, an organization that promotes the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population in Iraq, fled Iraq to Europe in 2000 for personal reasons. He has been in the UK since 2002.

Although Hili, 37, applied for asylum status three years ago, his request is still pending. As a consequence, Hili, who is considered one of the few brave visible leaders of the Iraqi gay community, cannot leave the UK. He said this hampers his efforts to convey to the world the plight of gays in Iraq.

“There’s a general atmosphere of hostility and ignorance by the UK immigration authority,” Hili told The Media Line from his current residence in England. “I urgently need to travel and publicly speak, present our work, campaign and raise funds. We’re the first LGBT group in the Middle East so we should get support from Western governments and not be treated like this. It’s a human rights issue and not just a gay rights issue.”

Iraqi LGBT was set up five years ago to help organize escape routes and safe houses for Iraqi gays in danger and help members of Iraq’s LGBT community who are facing death and persecution by the Iraqi police and militias. It also aims to raise awareness about the wave of homophobic murders in Iraq to the outside world.

Iraqi LGBT estimates that over 700 lesbians, gays bisexuals and transgenders have been assassinated in Iraq in recent years.

Campaigners say that the decision to not prioritize his application not only impacts on Hili but also on persecuted Iraqi lesbians and gays, “through the reduced ability of their sole visible leader to raise their profile internationally.”

Hili argues that he is in a minority group at risk and he needs his asylum application to be approved so that he can travel and promote the objectives of his organization.

 “My work with Iraqi LGBT has been delayed and everything is on hold. We’re unable to move, speak or to present our group to the world. We’re stuck here, while we get invitations from Europe, the U.S. and other countries who want to know more about the LGBT community in Iraq so it’s disrupting everything for us and throwing the group’s work down the drain,” he said.

The UK Border Agency told The Media Line that the case is being dealt with by Case Resolution Directorate.

“The reason it hasn’t been prioritised is because it doesn’t fall into one of the priority categories listed on our website,” a representative of the organization said.

Campaigners are gathering signatures for a petition at this link: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/iraqi-lgbt-need-your-help/sign.html

Michael Luongo, a freelance journalist and editor of Gay Travels in the Muslim World, said he believes Hili is right to ask for preferential treatment in his asylum application.

“Not only is he a gay Iraqi, he is one heading an organization, so the fact that he has not received asylum yet is baffling,” he told The Media Line. “What is the British government thinking?”

In addition, Luongo pointed out that the results of the recent parliamentary elections in Iraq indicate that hard-line political forces - who may well have been behind the murders of gays in Iraq - are now gaining political strength. This poses an increased threat to the gay community in Iraq.

Hili, who will not reveal his real name for reasons of personal safety, said that life for gays has actually better under Saddam Hussein and has severely deteriorated since 2003.

“[Under Saddam] I never suffered from the law on account of my sexual inclinations. I enjoyed tolerance and even respect by the people, society, friends, relatives and work colleagues,” Hili said.

Under Saddam, he added, the law imposed between six months and three years in jail for homosexual acts but these punishments were rarely enforced.

“We never experienced any killings or executions by the authorities,” he said.

Now, witnesses have testified of extreme violence in Iraq against sexual minorities. Officials have denied this, but Hili said they have proof it is occurring.

“We have clear evidence that the Iraqi police are participating in killings, and we can prove this with videos and documents,” he said. “We’ve also heard of lots of religious fundamental leaders urging their followers to track down homosexuals and beat and kill them. It’s far worse than we ever experienced in the past.”

As to the legislative situation today, Hili said the current Iraqi constitution made no reference to the gay community whatsoever.

“The new constitution doesn’t have criminal courts or regulations. We don’t even exist in the constitution. We believe that by not mentioning anything, this is evidence that we do not exist in the eye of the Iraqi constitution or the Iraqi state. We need to set that right.”

Interestingly, Luongo said that even though gays were better off under Saddam’s regime, the 2003 invasion also brought about changes that opened up the Iraqi gay community to the world.

“The invasion allowed for increased interaction between the Western gay world and the gay world of Iraq,” he explained, “either through employees at NGO's, gay soldiers, and other gay Westerners who came to work in occupied Iraq.”

Luongo, who has traveled to Iraq twice since 2003 and is familiar with the issue, said the “scene” in Iraq was nothing like a scene in the Western sense.

“I visited a cafe in Western Baghdad that had maybe 100 men in it, a cafe that has a gay reputation. There are a few such places in the city. However, the places like this which existed in Sadr City, a very conservative religious area, were firebombed and men who went were hunted down. To give some indication of the size of the gay community in exile, when I visited Damascus in Syria and interviewed gay men there, they told me that there were 9,000 gay Iraqi men in the city - half of whom came to flee the anti-gay violence of Baghdad on their own, and half of whom came along with their families, fleeing the general violence.”

Mirroring Hili’s comments Luongo said gays in Iraq are not at all tolerated in the current climate.

“I interviewed a woman from the government who was very liberal, and her view was that gays had to be more discreet in order to save themselves,” he said.

“What I found within Iraqi society is everything from deep hatred of gays to mild amusement to people who had friends they figured were gay but just never talked about it.  You might think of it like the USA or the UK in the 1960's but with an exceedingly more violent tendency towards gays.”

Ironically, Luongo said the Arabic version of his book, which discusses gays in the Muslim world, was available for sale in a bookseller’s bazaar in Baghdad, reflecting the contrasting tendencies in the city.