Iraq

Homotopia Festival

Peter Tatchell talks about queer rights and the philosophy of OutRage!’s direct action. He also talks about Iraq and religious fundamentalism.

Gay Iraqi victims of Islamist death squads

LGBT victims of homophobic assassinations by the Sadr and Badr fundamentalist militias in Iraq.

Baghdad refuses to protect gays and denounces UN report

“Iraqi lesbians and gays continue to be subjected a systematic reign of terror by Shia death squads. The government of Iraq refuses to crack down on the killers or to take any action to protect its gay citizens. It is a regime that is dominated by Shia fanatics and homophobes,” according to Ali Hili, the coordinator of the human rights group Iraqi LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender).

Mr Hili lists below a few examples of the many death squad killings of gay Iraqis.

“Supporters of the fundamentalist Sadr and Badr militias boast that they are cleansing Iraq of what they call ‘sexual perverts’. They are open about terrorising gay Iraqis to make them flee the country and murdering those who fail to leave. Their goal is a queer-free, pro-homophobic Iraq. They are dragging our country back to the dark ages,” said the London-based Mr Hili, who is also Middle East spokesperson for the gay human rights group, OutRage!

“Some members of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government are linked to the anti-gay death squads. They are the political representatives of the Muqtada al-Sadr movement and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Both these parties have militias, respectively the Mahdi army and the Badr brigades, who are responsible for the execution-style killing of lesbian and gay Iraqis – and the murder of many other Iraqis, including Sunni Muslims, trade unionists, unveiled women, journalists and men wearing shorts, jeans or western-style haircuts.

“The murder of gay Iraqis has the support of highly influential religious leaders, such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. He issued a fatwa in late 2005, calling for the execution of gay people in the ‘most severe way possible’. After international protests, he removed the fatwa from his website, but the fatwa itself has not been rescinded. It remains in force and is the spiritual sanction for the death squads to murder gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people,” said Mr Hili.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) has corroborated Iraqi LGBT’s claims of “sexual cleansing” by the death squads and Islamist courts:

“Armed Islamic groups and militias have been known to be particularly hostile towards homosexuals, frequently and openly engaging in violent campaigns against them,” January’s UNAMI report said.

“There have been a number of assassinations of homosexuals in Iraq…At least five homosexual males were reported to have been kidnapped from Shaab area in the first week of November (2006) by one of the main militias. The mutilated body of Amjad, one of the kidnapped, appeared in the same area after a few days. [We were] also alerted to the existence of religious courts, supervised by clerics, where homosexuals allegedly
would be ‘tried,’ ’sentenced’ to death and then executed,” UNAMI said.

This UNAMI report provoked a hostile reaction from the government of Iraq, which suggested that gay people are unIraqi and unIslamic:

“There was information in the report that we cannot accept here in Iraq. The report, for example, spoke about the phenomenon of homosexuality and giving them their rights,” said Mr al-Dabbagh, a spokesperson for the Iraqi government. “Such statements are not suitable to the Iraqi society. This is rejected. They (the UN) should respect the values and traditions here in Iraq.”

Iraq’s many LGBT victims of the death squads

Here are details of a few of the LGBTs who have been murdered in Iraq in recent months:

“Anwar, aged 34, a taxi driver, was a member of Iraqi LGBT and helped run one of the group’s safe houses in the city of Najaf. He disappeared in January 2007. He was arrested in his taxi after being stopped at a police and militia checkpoint. His body was found in March 2007. He had been subjected to an execution-style killing.

“Nouri, aged 29, a tailor, was kidnapped in the city of Karbala in February 2007. He had received many death threats by letter and phone in the past, accusing him of leading a gay life. He was found dead a few days later, with his body mutilated and his head severed.

“Hazim, a 21-year-old man, was taken by police officers from his house in Baghdad in February 2007. He was well-known to be gay. After threats because of his homosexuality, his family was forced to leave their home. Hazim’s body was subsequently found with several shots to the head.

“Sayf, a gay 25-year-old, worked for the Iraqi police as a translator. He was kidnapped in the Al-Adhamya suburb by black masked men in Ministry of Interior security force uniforms who drove a marked police car. Almost certainly they were members of the Badr militia which has infiltrated the Interior Ministry and police. Sayf’s body was found several days later, with his head cut off.

“Khaldon, a 45 year old gay man lived in al-Hurriya, a mainly Shia neighborhood of Baghdad. He worked as a chef. The Sadr militia, the Mahdi army, kidnapped him in November 2006. His decaying corpse was found in February 2007.

“Khalid, a 19 year old gay man, a college student who lived in al-Kadomya, was kidnapped in December 2006. Three months later, his family was handed his tortured and burned remains.

“Hasan Sabeh, a 34 year old transvestite – also known as Tamara – worked in the fashion industry designing women’s clothes. He lived in the al-Mansor district of Baghdad. Hasan was seized in the street by an Islamist death squad and hanged in public on the holy Shia religious day, 11 January 2007. His body was mutilated and cut to pieces. When his brother-in-law tried to defend him, he was also murdered.

“Four gay friends had been receiving threatening letters at their Baghdad houses. All four were arrested on 26 December 2006 by militia at a roadside checkpoint. They were interrogated about whether they were Sunnis. Their identity cards showed that three of the men were Shia. These three men were released after several hours of interrogation. The fourth man, Samer, a 26 year old a Sunni who lived in Zayona, was later found with gunshot wounds to his head, his eyes blindfolded and his hands tied behind his back. His body showed marks of torture and many burns. It is not clear whether Samer was executed because he was Sunni or gay or both.

“Alan Thomas, was a 23 year old, Christian gay Iraqi who lived in al-Gadeer, a Shia majority district of Baghdad. He received many threats for being gay and was eventually kidnapped and executed by Shia death squads in late 2006. His older sister spoke to me over the phone from Baghdad; explaining how the murder of her only brother caused the death of their sick elderly mother. She told me: ‘The new Iraqi evil regime does not provide effective protection to the population of Iraq. Shia militias act in collusion with security force gangs to take revenge on the Sunni’s and other minorities.’

“Occasionally, some victims of the fundamentalists have been able to buy their survival. Hamid A, a 44 year old bisexual man, from the Al-Talibya district. He was kidnapped twice by the Sadr militia. The first instance was in April 2006 when he, his nephew and his brother were kidnapped and tortured. He was released in May 2006 after his tribe members paid a huge ransom to save his life and the lives of his relatives. Hamid was kidnapped for a second time in November 2006 by the same Sadr militia, when an informant reported that he was drinking alcohol and that he was suspected of being gay. He was held in a big office in Sadr city, along with other detainees – most of them Sunnis and Christians. Again, he was ransomed and is now in hiding; a rare survivor of the Sadr militia interrogation centres.

“Heterosexual friends of gays are also executed. This happened to Majid Sahi, aged 28, a civil engineer. He had been helping Iraqi LGBT members in Baghdad. Abducted by the Badr militia from his home, they objected to his association with gay Iraqis. His family was advised by the Badr forces that their son’s “immoral behavior” was the reason for his kidnapping. His body was found in Baghdad, with bullet wounds in the back of his head, on 23 February 2007.

“Despite the great danger involved, Iraqi LGBT has established a clandestine network of lesbian and gay activists inside Iraq’s major cities, including Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Hilla and Basra,” reports Peter Tatchell of OutRage!, who is working closely with Ali Hili and Iraqi LGBT.

“These heroic activists are helping gay people on the run from fundamentalist death squads; hiding them in safe houses in Baghdad, and helping them escape to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon,” said Mr Tatchell.

Ali Hili is making an appeal for donations to fund the work of Iraqi LGBT:

“Iraqi LGBT needs donations to help gay people in Iraq who are fleeing the death squads. We need money for safe houses, food, electricity, security protection and clothing – and to help pay the phone bills of members of the Iraqi LGBT group. They are sending us information about the homophobic killings, at great risk to their own lives.

“Many of the people we are helping had nothing but the clothes on their backs, when they fled the attacks by fundamentalist militias.

“We are also paying for medication for members who are HIV positive. Otherwise, they will not get treatment. If it is discovered that they have HIV, they will surely be killed,” said Mr Hili.

The UK-based gay rights group OutRage! is working with Iraqi LGBT to support its work. Iraqi LGBT is coordinated by Ali Hili from the safety of London UK. The group does not yet have a bank account. Operating an Iraqi LGBT bank account in Baghdad would be suicide. For this reason, it has to operate its finances from London. All the group’s members in London are Iraqi refugees seeking asylum. Their lack of proper legal status makes it difficult for them to open a bank account in the UK. This is why Iraqi LGBT is asking that cheques be made payable to:

“OutRage!”, with a cover note marked “For Iraqi LGBT”, and sent to OutRage!, PO Box 17816, London SW14 8WT, England, UK. OutRage! then forwards the donations received to Ali Hili and Iraqi LGBT for wire transfer to Baghdad.

Homophobic terror in Iraq

Hasan Sabeh was a happy, talented 34 year old a transgender fashion designer, affectionately known as Tamara. He lived in the al-Mansor district of Baghdad. In January 2007, he was tending his fashion accessories stall in a street market. An Islamist death squad, wearing Iraqi police uniforms, seized Tamara, partially stripped his clothes off and, discovering that he was a man dressed as a woman, shot him dead. Tamara’s brother-in-law was nearby and rushed to cradle his body. He, too, was shot dead at point blank range. The killers then took Tamara’s body, hanged it in public, and mutilated it, as a warning to other gay and transgender Iraqis.

Late last year, five gay activists were abducted at gun-point by Iraqi police in Baghdad on 9 November. Nothing has been heard of them since then. It is feared they may have been murdered by death squads operating under the cover of the Iraqi police.

The kidnapped men are Amjad 27, Rafid 29, Hassan 24, Ayman 19 and Ali 21. All were members of Iraq’s clandestine gay rights movement, Iraqi LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender).

“For the last few months they had been documenting the killing of lesbians and gays, relaying details of homophobic executions to our office in London, and providing safe houses and support to queers fleeing the death squads,” said Ali Hili, a gay Iraqi Muslim who is head of Iraqi LGBT and Middle East spokesperson for the British gay human rights group OutRage!

At the time of the police raid, the five men were holding a secret meeting in a safe house in the al-Shaab district of Baghdad. They were communicating with Mr Hili.

“Suddenly there was a lot of noise, then the connection ended,” recalls Mr Hili.

Just days after these five activists were abducted, Haydar Kamel, aged 35, the owner of famous men’s clothing shop in the al-Karada district of Baghdad, was kidnapped near his home in Sadr city. The kidnappers were members of the Mahdi army, an Islamist militia loyal to fundamentalist leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

“Haydar had previously received death threats because of rumours about his alleged homosexuality. For many months, he had financially supported several men who were in hiding after they had been threatened by death squads because of claims that they were gay,” said Mr Hili.

Another recent raid was on the Jar al-Qamar barber shop in the al-Karada district of Baghdad. It was popular with gay men, which is probably the reason it was targeted. All four employees were arrested and taken away by the Iraqi police. They have disappeared.

It is feared that these 10 kidnapped men have been summarily executed.

“These disappearances are the latest ‘sexual cleansing’ operations mounted by extremist Islamist death squads, many of whom have infiltrated the Iraqi police,” notes Mr Hili. He has obtained details of the kidnappings direct by phone and email from his underground Iraqi LGBT activist colleagues in Baghdad.

“They are systematically targeting gays and lesbians for extra-judicial execution, as part of their so-called moral purification campaign. The aim of the death squads is the creation of a fundamentalist state, along the lines of the religious dictatorship in Iran,” said Mr Hili.

Earlier, in June this year, extreme lslamist death squads burst into the home of two lesbians in the city of Najaf. They shot them dead, slashed their throats, and also murdered a young child the lesbians had rescued from the sex trade.

The two women, both in their mid-30s, were members of Iraqi LGBT. They were providing a safe house for gay men on the run from death squads. By sheer luck, none of the men being given shelter in the house were at home when the assassins struck. They have now fled to Baghdad and are hiding in an Iraqi LGBT safe house in the suburbs.

“These homophobic kidnappings and murders are a snapshot of the rapidly growing power and menace of fundamentalist death squads,” added Mr Hili.

“Gays are not their only targets. They enforce a harsh interpretation of Sharia law, summarily executing people for listening to western pop music, wearing shorts or jeans, drinking alcohol, selling videos, working in a barber’s shop, homosexuality, dancing, having a Sunni name, adultery and, in the case of women, not being veiled or walking in the street unaccompanied by a male relative.

“Two militias are doing most of the killing. They are the armed wings of parties in the Bush and Blair-backed Iraqi government. Badr is the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is the leading political force in Baghdad’s government coalition. Madhi is the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr.

“Both militias want to establish an Iranian-style clerical tyranny. They have a perverted, corrupt and violent misinterpretation of Islam.

“The allied occupation of Iraq is bad enough. But victory for the Madhi or Badr militias would result in a reign of religious terror many times worse.

“The execution of lesbian and gay Iraqis by extreme Islamist death squads and militias is symptomatic of the fate that will befall all Iraqis if the fundamentalists continue to gain influence. The summary execution of queers is a warning of the barbarism to come.

“Saddam Hussein was a tyrant. It is good that he is no longer in power. I don’t want him back. But under Saddam discrete homosexuality was usually tolerated. There was no danger of gay people being assassinated in the street by religious fanatics.

“Since Saddam’s overthrow, the violent persecution of lesbians and gays is commonplace. It is actively encouraged by Iraq’s leading Muslim cleric, the British and US-backed Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In late 2005, he issued a fatwa ordering the execution of gay Iraqis. His followers in the extreme Islamist militias are now systematically assassinating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” said Mr Hili.

“Despite the great danger involved, Iraqi LGBT has established a clandestine network of gay activists inside Iraq’s major cities, including Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Hilla and Basra,” said Peter Tatchell of the UK-based LGBT rights group OutRage!, which is working with Iraqi LGBT.

“These courageous activists are helping gay people on the run from fundamentalist death squads; hiding them in safe houses in Baghdad, and helping them escape to Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

“The world ignores the fate of gay Iraqis at its peril. Their fate today is the fate of all Iraqis tomorrow,” said Mr Tatchell.

Anti-war Demo – March 2006

OutRage! joins anti-war demo, London, March 2006 – No Foreign Occupation! Support the Iraqi and Iranian democratic opposition.

© OutRage! 1990-2010. You are free to use this photo to illustrate news stories and articles about OutRage!, the lesbian and gay human rights group, with credit to the group and photographer. For all other uses, please inquire. Photos: Chris Houston, OutRage!

Gay Iraqi victims of Islamist death squads

LGBT victims of homophobic assassinations by the Sadr and Badr fundamentalist militias in Iraq.

Asylum

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in the UK with the support of OutRage!.