Friday, April 11, 2008

HRW's Long-Awaited Gay Iran Report:
Not Available for Public Inspecton

Where is the Human Rights Watch report on Iranian gays promised in the summer of 2006, as gay advocates in dozens of world cities, including Tehran, were preparing for a global day of solidarity with gay Iranians and against the death penalty?

The director of HRW's gay section, Scott Long, like Iranians leaders, did nothing to assist in the worldwide actions, and, indeed, did much trashing of the events and the organizers. However, he did mention in an email in June 2006 that he was preparing a very important report, one that would probably settle the many questions surrounding gays in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In a message dated 6/24/2006 8:32:22 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Dear Michael,

Thanks for your call and for the invitation. I’m sorry for not answering earlier but I was on the road.

I fully support the idea of commemorating the two victims. We would gladly sponsor an event which centered around the death penalty itself (obviously, one of the core human rights concerns in Iran) or its application to the offenses of minors. However, if the event is built on the presumption that the two youths were "gay," or were executed for it, we cannot sponsor it. There isn’t enough evidence for us to make either assertion. A great deal of speculation has for obvious reasons surrounded the case, but very few indubitable facts have been adduced, and none which clearly indicate that the two were executed for consensual homosexual acts, rather than (as the earliest accounts from Iran reported) for the violent rape of a 13-year-old. Amid such uncertainty I can’t see the possibility of pretending to a definitive statement.

We’re finishing a report on human rights abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Iran, which I hope will be ready for release by September. Entrapment and executions for homosexual conduct certainly take place, and torture is widespread. In relation to the effort to prevent Iranian asylum-seekers from being returned to such intolerable conditions—and from a pragmatic perspective—it however seems to me unfortunate that, with the focus so completely on Mashhad, the issue has come in the view of some governments to hinge on one murky and weak case, rather than on Iran’s overall record.

I'm sorry if I sound discouraging, but I do wish you the best of luck with the demonstration.


In late July 2006, Long published a column in Gay City News in which he prominently mentioned the report:
For eight months, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has researched a report on abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Iran, interviewing dozens in Iran and the diaspora, trying to separate fact from rhetoric and rumor . . .

Iran executes more people than almost any other country in the world. Consensual homosexual conduct carries the death penalty.

Yet if there is change, it will start inside Iran. Our report won’t be aimed at audiences in San Francisco or London. The readers that matter most are Iranian lesbians and gays, who are trying to assess their risks and options, and Iranian human rights workers campaigning for basic freedoms . . . In the process we hope to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Iranian asylum-seekers with reliable facts.

Reliability matters.
Indeed, I agree with Long on reliability. Now, almost two years after he first informed gay advocates of HRW's comprehensive report, one that would please the eyes of gay Iranians in Tehran, not those he doesn't like in SF and London, he not yet released the damn thing.

Maybe if he didn't spent so much time being the divisive global gatekeeper, and devoted more effort to finally finishing the review and edits on HRW's gay Iran summary, everyone could read and use it to improve respect of human rights protections of gays in the Islamic Republic.

Hey Human Rights Watch executives to whom Scott Long is accountable to, how about getting off your butts and giving the community the long-promised report?

Everyone should read a March 27, 2008, editorial in Gay City News that recounts some of the latest warfare waged by Long against gay advocates who don't kowtow to him:

As the head of the LGBT desk at the Human Rights Watch (HRW), Scott Long bears critical responsibilities for investigating human rights abuses and advocating greater freedoms for our community worldwide. That is estimable work, by any measure.

One occupational hazard, however, of taking on a highly specialized charge on matters of such delicacy involving repressive and dangerous regimes is undoubtedly a compounding sense of proprietorship, a fatigued feeling that others "shouldn't mess with my turf, they should stay out of my bailiwick."

On matters related to anti-gay repression in Iran, dating back almost three years, Long seems to have fallen into that trap, indeed to have fallen quite far.

And a favorite target of Long's churlishness has been Doug Ireland, the veteran human rights journalist who has done outstanding reporting on the lethal threats facing LGBT Iranians living under an Islamist theocratic regime.

Recent postings made by Long to an international human rights listserve - regarding the gay Iranian asylum case Ireland writes about on page one this week - demonstrate once again an unfortunate pattern of intellectual bullying to which he's too often resorted in recent years. Long's arguments are an amalgam of factual obfuscations, conflating of arguments made independently by a wide array of individuals, and references to privileged information to which only he is privy and that therefore cannot benefit from the healthy sunshine of public scrutiny.

Sadly, as Long's critics have charged, he sees himself as the international LGBT human rights gatekeeper, and a jealous one at that.

The most recent flap began when George Galloway, a member of the British Parliament from the leftist Respect Party, said on television that the young man whom Mehdi Kazemi, the 19-year-old gay Iranian asylum-seeker now awaiting UK justice, has identified as his boyfriend who was executed by Iranian authorities because he was gay, was in fact put to death for "committing sex crimes against young men."

Gay rights activists in the UK, most notably the tireless Peter Tatchell, immediately pounced on Galloway, pointing out that there is no evidence his charge about Kazemi's dead lover is true, and that not even Iranian authorities have made that claim.

(Tatchell alleged that one of Respect's key funders is a UK Islamist who holds radically anti-gay attitudes that include advocacy for putting gays to death. That assertion is a reminder that this entire controversy is tinged with questions about the geo-political and multicultural sensitivities entailed in any discussion about Iran, but that most decidedly is a matter for another day.)

In the wake of Tatchell's written rebuke of Galloway, Long felt compelled to step up, emphasizing that he "hold[s] no brief" for the Respect Party politician, but also theorizing that the MP may have fallen victim to "propaganda" that has "confuse[d]" "gayness" and "rape." In Long's telling, activists such as Tatchell and journalists, Ireland included, have improperly imputed a gay identity to men, including two who were teenagers, executed by Iran in recent years on charges of rape.

In a staggering allowance for Galloway's reckless charge, Long wrote, "Under the circumstances, with the facts clouded by irresponsible rhetoric, it's actually understandable he might get alleged consensual cases mixed up with rape cases."


Long's war on activists and journalists began over a dispute about the infamous hanging of two teenagers, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, in Mashad, Iran in July 2005. Initial press reports seemed to suggest that the youths were arrested after they had consensual sex with a third youth, younger than themselves. A government-controlled newspaper soon after reported that the youths instead were convicted of raping the third boy.

HRW condemned the execution of teenagers, but has steadfastly refused to credit accounts of the youths having engaged in consensual gay sex. Ireland, meanwhile, relying on multiple sources - the US-based editor of a magazine for gay Muslims, who spoke to three gay people in Mashad, and the editors of an underground gay publication in Iran, who had their own sources - reported that the Iranian regime's charges of rape were trumped up.

Long has never acknowledged a point made by Iranians, Ireland, other journalists, and activists - that the standard of proof for rape is less onerous than for homosexual conduct. He has also never come clean about the embarrassment he must have felt over the answer HRW's Iran specialist gave Ireland when queried about the group's own source about what happened - the regime-controlled newspaper.

Instead, with a piousness that is scant mask for arrogance, Long has repeatedly tisk-tisked Ireland, charging that his reporting has been "deeply irresponsible."

In response to an amazing series of first-person interviews with gay Iranians, both in-country and in exile, about which Ireland has reported in Gay City News since the Mashad incident, Long has been combative, dismissive, hostile, but not always consistent.

In a lengthy memo widely circulated via email in 2006, Long charged that Ireland had seized "uncritically" on stories such as the Mashad executions and "painted a picture of an 'intensifying reign of terror' or 'pogrom,'" which he said is "unfounded." At times, Long conflated what Ireland actually reported with rumors circulated by one or another of the vast universe of people with access to the Internet.

Yet, he also conceded he has "great respect" for Ireland's work as a journalist - and somewhat curiously credited Ireland with uncovering stories of "Iranian survivors of torture and abuse which are authentic and compelling."

Despite those kind - and well-deserved - words of praise, Long continues to snipe at Ireland, even as he glibly forgives the Galloways of the world. Last December, Ireland broke an astounding story detailing the execution of 21-year-old Makwan Moloudzadeh, who had been convicted of the rape, at age 13, of boys his own age. Because the six plaintiffs all recanted their accusations during the trial last year - Moloudzadeh insisted his own confession to one charge of anal sex was coerced and false - Iran's chief justice placed a stay on the execution, but in a rushed and apparently rump exercise of barbarity the young man's jailers hanged him anyway, in secret.

Ireland's sources for the story were the young man's attorney and the only Iranian journalist to have covered the case extensively - and whose own newspaper would not print her story. Ireland provided a vehicle for this brave journalist to tell that story to the world.

Long now complains that this is another case of improperly imputing gay identity in a case where evidence of it does not exist. Had Long read Ireland's story, however, he would know that Ireland was very clear that it is not known whether any sex ever took place. Long was merely reflexively regurgitating his own habitual rhetoric.

In a cryptic statement to the human rights listserve, Long said that he also had conversations with Moloudzadeh's attorney and his family and "the accounts that they gave us differed substantially and materially from what Doug put into print."

Never mind that Long offered no more information on those conversations (so how can we really judge his critique?) - he also failed to note that in Ireland's telephone conversations with the Iranian lawyer and journalist, the translator was Hossein Alizadeh, the Iranian-raised communications director for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. Long has no inhibitions about branding Ireland "deeply irresponsible." Is he now prepared to make the same charge against IGLHRC?

Clearly, much of what HRW does in its work must by necessity remain behind the scenes. But if it is to have the confidence of the LGBT community worldwide, it must balance that need with the responsibility to demonstrate a reasonable level of transparency and collegiality and the backbone to stand up to cowards like Galloway.

Long's pretense of infallibility - unknown in modern times outside the Vatican and the police states he battles - are ill-suited to the sophisticated and nuanced leadership required in his post. He should either get off his high horse or abdicate his papacy, now gone terribly awry.

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