Dutch government, pressed by Human Rights Watch, promises “re-evaluation”
The Dutch government last Wednesday backed down on its plan to deport gay asylum-seekers from Iran after a debate in Parliament showed overwhelming opposition to the proposal.
But the withdrawal of the plan is only effective until August or September, pending a “re-evaluation” by the Foreign Ministry of its earlier report on the situation of gays in the Islamic Republic of Iran which said they were not at risk.
Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk announced the suspension of the plan to deport Iranian gays and Christians “largely because she is running for chair of the Liberal (VVD) Party, which heads the government coalition, and wants to lead it in the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2007,” a journalist for Dutch TV told Gay City News, adding, “She wanted to appear ‘nice’ and conciliatory to those who’ll be voting for the party post.”
(In European politics, “liberal” means an economic conservative and hard-line free-market advocate, contrary to its meaning in the U.S.)
There was little support for the government’s plan to deport gay Iranians in Parliament, even in the ranks of Verdonk’s own party. Two parties from the governing VVD-led conservative coalition, the Christian Democrats and the D66party, announced in the parliamentary debate last Wednesday that they would join the Dutch Labor Party in opposing Verdonk’s plan to deport both Iranian gays and Iranian Christians.
Indeed, the only support for the deportation plan came from the conservative populist List Pim Fortuyn (LPF) Party, named after the openly gay, anti-immigration demagogue assassinated in 2002. In his rapid ascension to the front ranks of Dutch political leaders before his death, the flamboyant Fortuyn had made immigration the number one issue in Dutch politics with stinging attacks on Muslims and ringing declarations that “Holland is closed” to immigration.
Following Fortuyn’s death, his party—which had once appeared ready to sweep into power—imploded in scandals and factionalism. But Dutch politicians have been vying to appeal to Fortuyn’s anti-immigrant constituency ever since his death.
Verdonk’s original plan to deport gay Iranians was based on a Dutch Foreign Ministry report known as an “ambtsbericht,” which accepted without any questions the Iranian government’s line that gays are not persecuted in the Islamic Republic of Iran and that no one was being executed there for homosexuality.
In support of that view, the Foreign Ministry report cited statements from both the International Gay and Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Watch made after the hanging of two gay teens in the Iranian city of Mashad last July.
At that time, both organizations claimed—on the basis of a single report in a newspaper controlled by the reactionary religious regime in power—that the youths were guilty of the rape of a younger boy. Both HRW and IGLHRC sent out e-mails warning U.S. gay groups away from protesting the execution of the two gay lads for that reason; and these statements were cited by the Dutch Foreign Ministry report to justify its green-lighting the deportation of gay Iranians.
Those same warnings from IGLHRC and HRW have been used by the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to justify their subsequent silence on the huge campaign of repression of homosexuals in Iran.
However, this reporter, in Gay City News, demonstrated that the rape charges had been trumped up by government authorities against the two teens (“Iranian Sources Question Rape Charges in Teen Executions,” August 11-17 2005, at gaycitynews.com/gcn_432/iraniansourcesquestion.html).
In a lengthy and detailed letter criticizing the Dutch Foreign Ministry report sent to Verdonk on March 8, Human Rights Watch significantly altered its earlier position on the Iranian gay teens’ hangings, now saying that the real reasons for their execution are “uncertain.” The HRW letter was signed by Scott Long, director of HRW’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program, and said, “To found a decision which could affect—and end—the lives of an unknown number of asylum-seekers on a single uncertain case, rather than a full examination of the existing penalties in legislation and in practice, is irresponsible.”
HRW pointed out that sodomy (“lavat” in Persian) has been punishable by death in Iran since the revolution led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979, when the religious leader “called for homosexuals to be extirpated as ‘parasites and corruptors of the nation’ who ‘spread the stain of wickedness.’” Long’s letter went on to say, “Human Rights Watch has communicated with and interviewed a number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Iranians, both inside and outside Iran. Their accounts largely confirm the picture of a society… where police and authorities repeatedly target and persecute suspected homosexuals in the name of social cleansing. Societal as well as official scrutiny of ‘deviant’ behavior is widespread in Iran, with neighbors and even family members enlisted to support the state’s moral policing. Semi-official and ‘vigilante’ organizations dedicated to enforcing public morality regularly proliferate in Iran, supported by the police and judiciary, as well as by conservative clerics.”
Furthermore, said HRW’s letter, “In such an environment, it can reasonably be affirmed that the death penalty for lavat is not merely a paper punishment in Iran: it is enforced. Trials on morals charges in Iran are held in camera [secretly], and international outrage over the frequency of executions—Iran has the highest rate of executions per capita in the world—has led the government to exercise tight controls over press reporting of the death penalty. For these reasons, confirming the frequency of executions for lavat is effectively impossible.”
Gay City News, in its extensive coverage of Iran’s government-run, anti-gay pogrom—which includes a massive campaign using the Internet to entrap gay men, who are then arrested and tortured—has previously reported that there have been at least a dozen confirmed reports of the public hangings of gay men in Iran. There has been one report as well of the execution of a lesbian couple. Gay Iranians inside the country have told this reporter that the real number of executed homosexuals is much higher.
In contrast to HRW, IGLHRC has yet to issue any statement criticizing the use of its name in the Dutch Foreign Ministry report to justify deportation of gay Iranians, nor has it protested the Dutch deportation plan itself.
The HRW letter to Verdonk was given wide publicity by the country’s most respected newspaper, De Volkskrant, in an article in which its parliamentary correspondent, Theo Koele, refuted the Foreign Ministry report. Gay City News supplied Koele with a file of this reporter’s previous reporting on the anti-gay pogrom in Iran, and the Dutch reporter told this newspaper that he had personally spoken to Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, who was extremely upset by the De Volkskrant article.
The Dutch gay rights group COC—the world’s oldest homosexual rights organization—denounced the Foreign Ministry report as “seriously flawed” and called for its revision as well as for a reversal of the deportation policy. Radio Netherlands reported on April 13 that “Foreign Minister Bot has defended the accuracy of the official reports produced by his ministry, and has also criticized various human rights organisations for media stories about the persecution and the hanging of young homosexuals in Iran.”
Radio Netherlands then elaborated on a decade-long controversy about the adequacy of Dutch Foreign Ministry reports on human rights abuses worldwide: “It’s a sensitive issue, mainly because the quality of these official reports—which describe the situation in individual countries where asylum seekers have come from—has come in for criticism on previous occasions. Back in 1997, the country’s independent National Ombudsman looked into the reports and concluded that they were not up to standard. The sources used for the information were often anonymous and had not been checked for reliability.”
Bot has now promised a new “investigation” into conditions for gays in Iran, and an updated report, which will not be presented to Parliament much before the fall. Until then, the Dutch government is suspending all deportations of gay Iranians back to Iran. This means that U.S. gay organizations, which up until now have been silent on the plight of gay Iranians, still have time to mobilize and protest on their behalf, including directly to the Dutch government.
The eventual decision by that government on deporting Iranian gays will undoubtedly have repercussions on the deportation policies of other countries in the European Union, as Gay City News has previously reported.
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/.