|U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo has taken a lead role in getting the United States to react to the persecution of gay men in iraq. Photo by Rink.
Of the five or six members of Iraqi LGBT who reportedly have been sentenced to death in Baghdad for belonging to a supposedly banned organization, one has escaped custody and one has been executed, says U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. According to Polis, the “egregious human rights violations” are “being carried out by Iraqi government officials from the Ministry of the Interior.”
“While I do not know if these executions are being sanctioned at the highest levels of the Iraqi government, it is nonetheless disturbing that government officials and state-funded security forces are involved in the torturing and execution of LGBT Iraqis,” Polis wrote to Patricia Butenis, the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.
Polis said the U.S. government “appears to be largely unaware that the executions of gay and transgender Iraqis have been able to occur in Iraq” and has expressed an “unwillingness to seriously consider these allegations and examine the evidence (from) international human rights watchdog organizations.”
Reports of the pending executions were first brought to light by Iraqi LGBT founder Ali Hili, who launched the group in London after escaping Iraq.
In a recent phone interview, Hili said he isn’t sure what statute might make belonging to a banned organization a capital offense. “That’s what they have been told by a judge in a brief court hearing,” he said. “I don’t think this is in the Iraqi constitution as a death penalty (crime). The court is ... kangaroo-style. It was brief and people weren’t able to present legal representation or defend themselves in that kind of court. Our information is that these five members have been convicted to death for running activities of a forbidden organization on Iraqi soil.”
Scott Long, director of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Rights Division, said: “We are trying urgently to determine who they (the condemned men) are and what has happened. ... Together with other groups, members of Congress and concerned activists, we’re doing everything we can to investigate and determine who’s jailed and what their fates may be. The Iraqi government and the U.S. government must both investigate these charges immediately.”
At press time, Long was in Iraq attempting to learn more.
In addition to the uncertainty over what death-penalty crime the condemned men could have been charged with, it also is unclear if gay sex is illegal in Iraq. Some news reports have said it isn’t, some have said the punishment is up to seven years in prison, and some have said engaging in gay sex is a capital crime. A lengthy Wikipedia entry on the question reflects the confusion.
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s quasi-definitive report “State-Sponsored Homophobia - A world survey of laws prohibiting same sex activity between consenting adults” says: “Iraq reinstated the Penal Code of 1969 after the American invasion in 2003. The Penal Code does not prohibit sexual activities between consenting adults of the same sex. However, as the country is under war, and law enforcement is not functioning properly, death squads operate in the country, killing homosexuals.”
Hili called the question of whether gay sex is illegal in Iraq “a very gray area.”
“They haven’t mentioned clearly (in the law) about punishment or legalization for homosexuality,” he said. “But from what we hear and what we see on the ground, it is clearly illegal.”