State Dept.: Reports of Iraqi Gay Executions Completely Bogus

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday April 2, 2009

A group called Iraqi LGBT, run out of London by exiled self-identified gay Iraqi Ali Hili, has alleged that the Iraqi government is set to execute more than 100 men for the "crime" of homosexuality, according to a March 31 article posted at UK Gay News.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department who works at the Iraqi Desk and spent a year in the war-torn country told EDGE that the story has no merit. "Homosexuality is not a crime in Iraq," said John Fleming, the public affairs officer for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

"The individuals condemned to death in Iraq have been convicted of violent crimes, including murder, terrorism, insurgency and kidnapping."

There have been no executions of criminals since 2007, added Fleming, who also noted that any criminals now awaiting possible execution are there for crimes such as "terrorism, insurgency and kidnapping." Their sexual identity is irrelevant to the charges, he said.

"None were convicted of the 'crime' of being homosexual," Fleming told EDGE. "In fact, it's immaterial to Iraqis.

"Frankly, there are other issues they're concerned about like basic survival, getting food and water. It's a luxury for the average Iraqi to worry about homosexuality."

Hili asserts that the prisoners face execution from the Iraqi government in groups of 20 starting this week, according to UK Gay News, and that a total of 128 Iraqis accused of being gay face death.

Hili's group posted a petition at its Web site to protest the reportedly imminent executions, and has issued an appeal to the United Kingdom and to the UN's Human Rights Commission to exert political pressure on the Iraqi government to stop the executions from taking place.

Hili was quoted in UK Gay News as saying, "We have information and reports on members of our community [who have] been arrested and [are] waiting for execution for the crimes of homosexuality."

Hili added that his group, which operates a series of safe houses for gay and lesbian Iraqis, has lost seventeen member since 2005, most of them abducted and killed by personnel associated with the Iraqi government's Minister of the Interior and its police force.

The Iraqi government has not identified those who are scheduled for execution, the article said. Hili asserted that the condemned were probably sentenced by the country's Central Criminal Court (CCCI), which, he added, is known for trials that do not meet internationally recognized criteria for trials.

"The state executing people for 'morals' crimes is also obviously unacceptable and deplorable," Hill said.

The article noted that the Iraqi government was called upon by Amnesty International to disclose the identities and other particulars in the cases of those who face execution this week

Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out on the issue of GLBT persecution worldwide, saying, "Human rights is and always will be one of the pillars of [American] foreign policy [under the Obama administration]."

Added Ms. Clinton, who was addressing the European Parliament in Brussels, "And, in particular, the persecution and discrimination against gays and lesbians is something that we take very seriously. It is terribly unfortunate that right now in many places in the world, violence against gays and lesbians, [and] certainly discrimination and prejudice, [is] not just occurring, but condoned and protected."

Hili's allegations follow years of similar reports about gays and, to a lesser extent, lesbians being targeted for death by Iraqi officials and roving "death squads" who take their cue from anti-gay religious leaders.

A CNN.com article posted last July reported on the experiences of a young gay man identified as "Kamal," a 16-year-old gay man who said he fell into the hands of a gang in 2005. Kamal's treatment at the hands of the armed gang included being raped repeatedly by the men, who eventually released him in exchange for a ransom of $1,500.

"I told my family that I was beaten by them, but I did not dare to tell my family that I was raped by them," he told CNN. "I could not say it, it's too much shame."

Even now, Kami and a gay friend called "Rami" say that they must live lives of complete discretion, lest lawless gangs--or the police--detain them and subject them to torture and death.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq six years ago was touted as a blow for freedom and democracy. But for gays and lesbians, life had "deteriorated," the CNN article said: under the rule of Saddam Hussein, a secular tyrant, gays and lesbians might have been subjected to contempt, but they did not suffer the widespread and systematic violence to which they are now subjected.

Fleming disputes such reports. While he concedes that the police and armed forces aren't as far along in protecting human rights as the United States, the U.S. has been diligent in trying to impart the importance of such individual rights when training uniformed personnel for an eventual total withdrawal of U.S. forces.

"Homosexuality is outlawed by more than 85 countries and is punishable by death in several Islamic states, including Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen," Fleming pointed out. "But Iraq is not one of them."

In fact, the U.S. stresses human rights because--aside from humanitarian motives--lack of such rights becomes a factor in suppressing citizens, which fosters a rich climate for potential terrorists.

"The need for Iraqi forces to respect the human rights of all Iraqis is continually emphasized by the U.S. because we know the persecution of minorities--including LGBTs--is a core motivator of sectarian violence," Fleming said. "This is an issue we frequently raise with Iraqi leaders and officials."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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