Plan to end freeze on expulsions draws fire; Sweden may follow suit
The Netherlands’ immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, has sent a letter to Parliament informing the legislators that the conservative Dutch government of right-wing Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has decided to end the six-month freeze on deportation of gay Iranian refugees from the Islamic Republic of Iran’s lethal anti-gay pogrom.
The freeze was imposed after widespread public protest in the Netherlands and across Europe in the wake of the hanging of two gay teens in Iran last July. Iran’s homophobic campaign includes entrapment, blackmail, arrests, kidnapping, torture, and the executions of a dozen more young gay men since the original two teens were hanged in public.
The Web site Gay Egypt this week published a new analysis of the hanging of the first two Iranian teens that demonstrated that it was a particularly cruel and painful method of execution.
The decision by the Dutch government to once again ship Iranian gays who aren’t granted asylum back into the fiery furnace of the Iranian government has created enormous protest in the Netherlands.
The most respected Dutch daily newspaper, De Volkskrant, reported this past Saturday that the deportation edict has created a huge “commotion” in the Tweede Kamer, the Netherlands’ equivalent of the U.S. House of Representatives. Lousewies van der Laan, the parliamentary leader of the left-of-center Democrats 66 Party, a member of the right-led government coalition—told De Volkskrant that it is clear from reports of human rights organizations that Iran “is simply unsafe for gays,” and called the decision by Verdonk to end the deportation freeze “completely crazy, naive, and irresponsible.”
A spokesman for the PvdA, the Dutch Labor Party, also called the government decision “crazy.”
“How can you deport to a country where they persecute people because of homosexuality?” he asked.
Farah Karimi, a Green member of Parliament, who was born in Iran, called Verdonk’s plan “unbelievable,” adding, “Everyone knows that the situation for homosexuals in Iran is life-threatening.”
The Socialist Party and the Christian Union are also against the plan, De Volkskrant reported.
The Immigration Ministry had tried to pull a fast one and sneak through the retrograde immigration decision without informing the public. The official letter announcing the decision was not posted on the ministry’s Web site, as it should have been. Even parliamentary correspondents for major Dutch media were unaware of it until this reporter began inquiries about it through Dutch journalist friends. When De Volkskrant—whose parliamentary correspondent was tipped off to this story by me through a New York-based Dutch correspondent—put the story on its front page last Friday, it created a public backlash against the government’s deportation plan.
Facing possible deportation under this plan are a dozen gay Iranians, one of whom has already been sentenced to death, according to Saba Rawi, the Dutch representative of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO). Rawi himself is facing deportation—and, because of his pro-gay activities in the Netherlands criticizing the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for its vicious anti-gay campaign, he would be a certain target for arrest, imprisonment, torture, and possibly execution for “blasphemy,” a capital crime, if returned to Iran.
Rawi fled from Iran to the Netherlands four and a half years ago after he was arrested for kissing his boyfriend in the street.
“I arrived in the Netherlands in April 2001,“ Rawi told Gay City News. “Two years ago, they denied my request for asylum, and since then I’m living an illegal life with fear and tension in Holland.”
The Dutch gay rights organization COC—one of the oldest in the world—told De Volkskrant that the decision to end the freeze on deportation of gay Iranians is “revolting,” because the group knows well the anti-gay campaign of terror against gay people being waged by the Iranian government.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week also denounced the plan.
“The legal machinery of persecution is oiled, ready, and operating in Iran, and the Netherlands has a binding and absolute legal obligation not to send people back to face it,” said Scott Long, director of HRW’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program.
Verdonk said she based her decision on a report she had requested from the Netherlands’ Foreign Ministry on the situation of homosexuals in Iran. That report claimed, “It appears that there are no cases of an execution on the basis of the sole fact that someone is homosexual… For homosexual men and women, it is not totally impossible to function in society, although they should be wary of coming out of the closet too openly.”
On the contrary, said HRW’s Long, “Men and women suspected of homosexual conduct in Iran face the threat of execution. We have documented brutal floggings imposed by courts as punishment, and torture and ill-treatment, including sexual abuse, in police custody.”
The PGLO’s Rawi told Gay City News that he was raped several times by police while in custody.
Ironically, the Netherlands’ Foreign Ministry, in its report, cited the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission’s statements last summer denigrating reports that the two teens hanged in Iran in the city of Mashad in July were executed for being gay. As of press time, IGLHRC—which has maintained a discreet and astonishing public silence on the persecution of gay Iranians—had made no statement denouncing the Dutch deportation plan. Neither had the Human Rights Campaign nor the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. This silence of the two leading U.S. gay organizations underscores how international solidarity with persecuted gays abroad continues to be absent from their agendas.
HRW, on the other hand, pointed out that that the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits the Netherlands from deporting a person who may be at risk of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, or punishment. The European Court last year ruled that the Netherlands could not proceed with a deportation to Eritrea due to such a risk. The European Court has also held that diplomatic assurances cannot justify returns to countries where torture is “endemic,” or a “recalcitrant and enduring problem.” The United Nations Convention against Torture specifically states, in Article 3, that “No State shall expel, return, or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”
The U.N. also requires that “for the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations, including where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant, or mass violations of human rights.”
To the Dutch Foreign Ministry report’s claim that gay people were not persecuted in Iran if they were “wary of coming out of the closet too openly,” HRW’s Long replied, “Sexual orientation and religious belief are deeply felt parts of the human personality. Silencing oneself is not an acceptable price for staying alive.”
If the Dutch Parliament allows the government’s plan to deport gay Iranians to stand, it is likely that Sweden, one of the other countries that instituted a freeze on deporting gay Iranians in the wake of the hanging of the two gay teens, would follow suit. At the request of Gay City News, inquiries were made of the Swedish government by Bill Schiller, a Radio Sweden journalist who is also a gay activist and chairman of Tupilak, the association of Nordic gay cultural workers.
After multiple conversations with Swedish Foreign Ministry officials, Schiller told this reporter that “the freeze is still on—but this spring, they will make a new evaluation. I was told there will be ‘no public statement on this’—they will simply decide then on a case-by-case basis. This will mean that we won’t know much until we get a case where the gay Iranian is lucky enough to get public support that makes a splash in the media. The Dutch decision, if confirmed, will no doubt be used in the battle of the media and in the game of ‘Russian roulette’ gay Iranians will face on the question of deportation in the Nordic Zone.”
After the firestorm of protest from Dutch political parties and gay rights groups against her deportation plan, Verdonk said on Tuesday of this week that she would judge the cases of gay Iranians “individually.”
The PGLO’s Rawi, however, told Gay City News, “This means she will deny all requests, like mine, individually, because they compare all we say about our harsh experiences in Iran, tortures, executions, etc., with the Foreign Ministry’s report, which says it’s okay out there. As long as they do not change the report, the situation for Iranian homosexuals will be the same. They will send us back individually, one by one!”
Gay City News recommends that readers contact Dutch officials in care of H.E. Boudewijn J. van Eenennaam, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, The Royal Netherlands Embassy, 4200 Linnean Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008; by phone at 202-244-5300; via fax at 202-362-3430; and through e-mail at [email protected].
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at