A 35-year-old gay Iranian is on a hunger strike in a U.K. jail to protest a deportation order that will send him back to Iran. Saeed Faraji was arrested by British immigration police on April 20, and is currently being held in Oakington Detention Center in Cambridge.
The Home Office refused his asylum request on the grounds that he could not prove that homosexuals are subjected to “torture, inhumane, or degrading treatment” in Iran.
Faraji told his story in a sworn statement to the Home Office's Immigration Appeal Authority, a copy of which was provided to Gay City News.
Faraji is the youngest of five children from a Tehran family of practicing Muslims, and was trained at a technical school in elevator repair.
“I knew that I was different from a young age,” Faraji said, “and at around 14 I found myself attracted to people of the same sex. I had no attraction for women.”
“From childhood, I had a very close friend called Ali,” Faraji explained. “We were inseparable. Our relationship developed from being friends to being partners.”
After completing his military service, Faraji resumed his relationship with Rahaei, but, he said, “our relationship was always practiced behind closed doors away from prying eyes [because] homosexuality is not allowed at any level in Iran.”
“I spent my working time helping my father in his carpet business,” Faraji said, “and Ali worked for the Ministry of Agriculture. We tried to continue to see each other as often as we could.”
Faraji said that “Ali and I were happily sharing our love for each other, albeit in secret,” until one day when the couple was “in my bedroom watching an X-rated video that Ali had secretly obtained. During this time we were watching this video on the computer, Ali performed oral sex on me – but we did not realize that my cousin had seen us. He was shocked and confused at what he had seen and left the room immediately.”
A few days later, Faraji related, it became clear his cousin had informed on him to his family. He and Rahaei were again having sex in his bedroom “when the door burst open, and my father, Ali's father, and three police came in. Ali and I were scared for our lives, and without even finding my shoes I got my trousers on and ran as fast as I could, jumping from the balcony window. Fearing for my life, I left Ali – I felt terrible [doing so], but I had to get out. While I was running away I heard gun shots being fired by the police, and I ran even faster.”
Faraji made his way to the house of a friend who knew of his relationship with Rahaei. “He told me that I couldn't stay in his house for long – Iran was not a safe place for me and the only option I was left with was to flee the country,” Faraji said.
His friend helped him find a “passer” who smuggled him out of the country and arranged his voyage; after a long and arduous journey, he eventually arrived in the U.K. on December 11, 1999. Faraji applied for asylum as a sexual refugee the same day, but even though he has made a life for himself in the U.K. in the intervening eight years, it is only now that the authorities have decided to deport him.
“Since I have been in the U.K. I have experienced freedom to express my views and feelings without fearing for my life,” Faraji told immigration officials. “I cannot return to Iran, a country that treats me as a lower kind of human being. Everyone has the right to be treated with decency regardless of their sexual orientation. I also fear revenge attacks from my family.”
Friends of Faraji contacted the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO, the new name adopted by the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization, or PGLO), which is supporting Faraji's asylum request.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has an abysmal record on granting asylum to gay refugees, especially from Muslim countries; in fact, the U.K.'s large Muslim population means that electoral calculations are likely not tangential to the asylum refusals. The Home Office's claims that homosexuals are not persecuted in Iran for their sexual orientation are laughable. For example, the government of the Netherlands last year adopted a new asylum policy for Iranian gays, who are now considered a “special category” of persecuted people who no longer have to prove they are individually at risk in order to be granted refugee status.
According to Human Rights Watch, “Iran is distinguished by the overt severity of the penalties it imposes on consensual, adult homosexual conduct. 'Sodomy' or lavat -consummated sexual activity between males, whether penetrative or not – is punishable by execution. (Article 111 of the Islamic Penal Code states that 'Lavat is punishable by death so long as both the active and passive partners are mature, of sound mind, and have acted of free will.') Tafkhiz (the rubbing together of thighs or buttocks or other forms of non-penetrative 'foreplay' between men) is punishable by one hundred lashes for each partner, according to Articles 121 and122 of the Penal Code. Recidivism is punishable by death on the fourth conviction. In addition, Article 123 of the Penal Code further provides that 'If two men who are not related by blood lie naked under the same cover without any necessity,' each one will receive ninety-nine lashes. Articles 127 to 134 stipulate that the punishment for sexual intercourse between women is one hundred lashes and if the offense is repeated three times, the punishment is execution.”
This reporter has published numerous interviews with gay Iranian victims of torture in this newspaper dating back to mid-2005.
As Mani, an underground gay activist inside Iran, told Gay City News last summer, “You who live serenely and comfortably on the other side of Iran's frontiers, be aware that those who think and feel and love like you do in Iran are executed for the crime of homosexuality, are assassinated, kidnapped, and barred from working in offices. You have festivals, and they prisons. You select Mr. Gay of the Year, but they don't even enjoy the right to have gravestones. Be fair and tell us what difference there is between us and you. Isn't it time that all homosexuals around the world rise up and come to our defense?” (See this reporter's interview with Mani, “Gay and Underground in Iran,” July 6-12, 2006; url follows below.)
Letters in support of Faraji, who faces imminent deportation back to Iran, should be faxed to the British ambassador to the U.S., Sir David Manning, British Embassy, 3100 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20008 at fax number 202-588-7870. Make certain to include Faraji's prisoner number at the Oakington Detention Centre: 20/4c.
In another urgent case, the secretary-general of the IRQO, 26-year-old Arsham Parsi, has appealed for emergency financial support to help smuggle an arrested gay activist and blogger out of Iran.
“For security reasons we will call him Babak,” Parsi said from his base in Toronto, where he was granted asylum last year as a sexual refugee from Iran. “Babak is 27 years old, and had worked as a writer and translator for the monthly, Persian-language online magazine of the Iranian Queer Organization, Cheraq,” Parsi said, adding, “He is also a gay blogger who actively pursued queer rights, for which he received many threats from the police. Babak had fled Iran through the mountains to Turkey, but he was stopped by the Turkish police and arrested for lack of documents.”
Babak was sent back to Iran before he could claim refugee status at the Turkish office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Parsi said that after his deportation back to Iran, Babak “was taken to jail, badly beaten and tortured, and released only after a friend paid $1,500 bail to get him out.” But, Parsi said, Babak faces trial soon on charges stemming from his gay activism, and explained “it is very important that he is smuggled out of Iran as soon as possible before he is summoned to court.”
“We are a global gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender family,” Parsi said, “and we need o help out members of this family who are in desperate need – particularly individual activists like Babak who have been persecuted for the way they love and for the crime of defending the rights of our brothers and sisters.”
Parsi said the emergency donations would pay a “passer” to smuggle Babak out of Iran before he is again jailed and tortured.
Contributions may be made via credit card through a PayPal account on the Iranian Queer Organization's Web site at http://www.irqo.net/ .
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at direland.typepad.com/direland/ . Read his July 2006 interview with activist Mani, “Gay and Underground in Iran“.