Arak is a city under the strictest possible conservative religious, political, and military rule because it is the site of Iran’s heavy water plant—heavy water is used in the production of fissionable nuclear material and is crucial to Iran’s attempts to develop a deliverable nuclear weapon.
The two condemned men, both 27—whose names may be transliterated as Farad Mostar and Ahmed Choka—were sentenced by an Arak court for sexual assault with homosexual acts, or, in other words, rape. Mostar and Choka, who are said to be intimate friends and business partners in a music store, were accused of having sequestered and sexually violated a 22-year-old man.
This information came from the editors of an underground publication for Iranian gays who, out of fear, asked that their names and that of their publication not be used—as did all sources within Iran. They referred to the two men as “gays,” and added that that most of their information comes from a gay man within Arak. This source said that the man Mostar and Choka were accused of assaulting—known as Ali, an attractive student at Arak University—was known to be bisexual, and had been having difficulties with his family over his manner of dressing and his hairstyle, which did not conform to conservative religious standards.
Ali’s father is said to be a high-ranking army officer with the title of sarhang, or colonel. According to the same source, Ali told his father of the assault—and the father then took him to a physician to be examined for evidence of the rape and, subsequently, lodged a complaint against Mostar and Choka with the police.
The two men were unable to pay the lawyer they had hired, and this same source asserted their legal defense suffered greatly as a result. Farshad Hoseini of the Netherlands secretariat of the International Federation of Iranian Refugees (IFIR) told this reporter by telephone that his group this week hired a prominent Tehran attorney, Khoram Shati, to represent the two condemned men and file an appeal of their death sentence to the Iranian Supreme Court.
At press time, Shati was said to be traveling to Arak to ascertain what grounds there are for appeal.
It is not known with certainty at this time whether the two men are guilty of the crime with which they were charged, as the families of the two men have refused to speak with anyone outside the country. While the gay source in Arak cited above claimed the charge “seems to be true,” the Iranian gay publication’s editors who cited this source also warned that “the courts [in the Islamic Republic] always add to gays’ so-called crimes.”
An Iranian scholar who has spent considerable time studying sexuality in Iran told this reporter, “In Iranian society, where even dating between men and women is not allowed under the Islamic Republic, rape is a daily occurrence, so great is the level of male sexual frustration. It is quite likely that the two men from Arak under death sentence did not even consider whatever they did to the third man ‘rape.’”
Multiple sources, including this scholar and other Iranians, both in exile and in Iran, said that prosecution of men for raping women is relatively rare compared to the number of actual rapes of women which take place. Moreover, rape is quite frequently used as a form of punishment and humiliation against males in prison by prison authorities, guards, and even clerics, particularly when the prisoners have been charged with or convicted of sexual crimes. According to multiple Iranian gay sources—both exiles in France, Sweden, and the Netherlands who have been in touch with their friends in Iran, and some in Iran who have communicated with this reporter directly by e-mail—there is an enormously heightened climate of repression and surveillance of homosexual activity in the wake of the hangings of two gay Iranian teens in the city of Mashad on July 19, previously reported in Gay City News. Even gay Iranians outside Iran are afraid of having their names used for fear of reprisals against their families and friends.
As someone who made frequent reporting trips to Eastern Europe before the fall of Communism, this reporter can attest that the fear encountered reporting the Iran story these last several weeks surpasses by far anything encountered covering dissident movements behind the Iron Curtain.
As worldwide protests against the hangings of the two Mashad youths grew in both intensity and number, these Iranian sources suggested, the Islamic Republic—under its new, recently-elected, ultra-nationalist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—has decided to show that it will not bend or knuckle under to foreign pressure on behalf of Iranian gays by stepping up its legal actions, including more executions, against gay men. Iranian scholars who followed the presidential campaign told this reporter that the Western press failed to grasp the degree to which Ahmadinejad”s “morality” crusade—which included denunciations of imported Western “decadences,” like homosexuality—was just as crucial to his electoral victory as his populist economic appeals.
In related developments, the Netherlands has now joined Sweden in freezing all deportations of gay Iranians who’ve been refused asylum as a result of the hangings of the Mashad youths. Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pierre Pettigrew, has issued a statement condemning the “deterioration” of the human rights situation in Iran, in which he specifically referred to the hangings of the Mashad gay youths, saying, “We condemn the recent hanging of two teenagers and encourage Iran to respect its obligations as a signatory to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child,” and criticized the “persecution of minorities in Iran.”
On August 16, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution entitled “Resolution urging the United States Department of State to condemn the Islamic Republic of Iran’s execution of two teenagers [Mahmoud Asgari, Ayaz Marhoni], and the impending execution of two young men [Farid Mostaar, Ahmad Chooka], for conducting homosexual acts allegedly charged as ‘rape.’” The resolution—spearheaded by openly gay Supervisor Bevan Duffy, and one of whose prime movers, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, is of Iranian descent—also “deplores the persecution and execution of all Iranians who are denied the due process of the law and are, or are perceived to be, of the LGBT community;“ and “urges the U.S. State Department and its European partners to issue a strong condemnation against the Islamic Republic of Iran for their national practice of civil rights abuses and executions of homosexuals, and demand the cessation of further executions and denial of due process of law.”
Scott Long, director of gay and lesbian affairs for Human Rights Watch, told this reporter that his group has referred the case of the two men under death sentence in Arak to the Special Rapporteur for Extra-Judicial Executions of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, but that HRW had also been encountering difficulties in obtaining information from inside Iran, and does not feel it possesses sufficient hard information to take stronger action. Long confirmed this reporter’s impression that gay Iranians “are really scared” by the new hardline-conservative Ahmadinejad government and what it may do.
“It’s absolute fear, no question,” Long added.
As this story unfolds, it is worth re-emphasizing that there is always a problem of terminology when dealing with same-sex relations in Iran. As the noted gay historian Jonathan Katz remarked in his 2003 book, “Love Stories. Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality,” referring “to early 19th-century men’s acts or desires as gay or straight, homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual” places “their behaviors and lusts within our sexual system, not theirs.” That is precisely the case with Iran today, where “gay identity” in the Western sense exists only among a tiny, well-educated element largely located in Tehran and a few other urban centers, despite a centuries-old literary and cultural tradition of same-sex love that has been entirely erased from consciousness in modern Iran.
The extensive crackdown on domestic gay websites and the blocking of foreign ones by the Islamic Republic is designed to stop the spread of this Western sense of gay identity.
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/