Monday, November 30, 2009

NGOs Must Unite to Save 9 Iranians
Facing Death for Sodomy

On October 31 the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees issued a plea for help on behalf of Nemat Safavi, convicted of homosexual acts and facing execution in Iran. The plea was directed at non-governmental orgs, with vaster resources to conduct research, gather facts and mobilize public actions:

We ask that people write, fax, call, or email to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and any LGBT and/or international organizations to support Nemat Safavi and vigorously oppose his execution and the laws against homosexuals.

A day later, Peter Tatchell expressed personal sentiments about the current state of global gay activism over gay Iranians:

Everyone is now too intimidated by past denunciations and smears when we tried, in good faith, to defend Iranian queers.

Any person in Britain who takes a stand against homophobia in Iran is vilified as a neo con, agent of imperialism, Zionist, war-monger etc., including by other LGBTs, left-wingers, Islamists and some human rights organisations.

Those of us who stuck our necks out on previous occasions got precious little support. I weep at this terrible state of affairs.

The biggest obstacle to coordinated and effective global gay Iranian activism, after years of character assassinations against dozens of people who don't toe the Human Rights Watch party-line, is Scott Long. His campaign against other activists culminated in a 18-page grudge report, and he has done much to undermine previous claims of Iran executing homosexuals.

HRW on November 4 put out a statement calling on Iran to stop the planned execution of three men for homosexual conduct:

Mehdi P., from Tabriz; Moshen G., from Shiraz; and Nemat Safavi, from Ardebil, were accused in separate cases of committing homosexual acts when they were under age 18. No date has been set for their execution yet, but the lawyer representing two of the men fears that it could happen any day.

"Killing people for what they did as children is wrong and repellent, and killing them for alleged homosexual conduct is just as wrong and repellent," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

Notice that it's not Long, head of the HRW gay division, who is quoted, but another HRW director. He really has a problem addressing the country's executions of men for homosexual relations, doesn't he?

The statement is also very telling about HRW's non-engagement style in any serious way with gays. No request to send emails or take any action that might save the condemned men. Furthermore, HRW says nothing about working with other NGOs on behalf of the death row homosexuals. HRW simply is engaging in their typical "go it alone" fashion, which may be enough to sway Iranian politicians.

Setting a better example of productive cooperation is the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. IGLHRC on November 25 issued a call to action, in conjunction with the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees and COC Netherlands, on behalf of nine men facing execution because of homosexual conduct. Here's part of the sample letter the NGOs provide for anyone who wants to send emails to European officials, whose countries have business and diplomatic relations with Iran:

I am writing to request an immediate intervention to save the lives of a number of Iranian men, including minors and people who were minors at the time the alleged crimes occurred, who are currently in detention after having been convicted of sodomy and sentenced to death. These men include Ghaseem Bashkool, Mahdi Pooran, Hamid Taghi, Ebrahim Hamidi, Mehdi Rezaii, Hamze Chavoshi, Loghman Hamzepour, Mohsen Ghabraii, and Nemat Safavi (see appendix for more information about their cases). [...]

The defendants are denied fair and open trials; due to the taboo nature of sexual crimes, lawyers, human rights activists and reporters find it next to impossible to advocate on behalf of the defendants. Furthermore, the Iranian judicial system does not allow independent observers to examine the outcome of the courts and those who dare to advocate for the defendants are often harassed by the government and vigilantes. [...]

I strongly urge you and your government to use your diplomatic influence on Iran to stop the pending executions of the minor and adult men already convicted of sodomy.

IGLHRC, IRQR and COC Netherlands also provide the email addresses of key European leaders, along with email addresses for Iranian leaders and a letter in Farsi to send to them.

With Iran so impervious to practically all Western influence and lobbying, any human rights effort targeting Iran's mullahs and politicians, particularly one of a homosexual nature, should have much collaboration among the NGOs. In the interests of the condemned men, let's see a more united campaign from the NGOs regarding a letter-writing campaign, and if need be, a weekday protest at Iran's mission to the United Nations in Manhattan.

The cooperation of several NGOs two weeks ago at Uganda's mission to the UN, over a proposed deadly anti-homosexual bill and other problems facing that African nation's gay community, was laudable. It was also effective at sending a strong message of peaceful pressure to a government recalcitrant to protect the human rights of its gay citizens. Such a unified action should be organized by NGOs for gay Iranians facing the death penalty.

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