His Remarks About Gays Made in the US Censored in Iran
During a controversial talk at Columbia University‚Äôs World Leaders Forum on Sept. 24, Iranian President Dr. Mahmood Ahmadinejad categorically denied the existence of homosexuality in Iran, stating, ‚ÄúIn Iran, we don‚Äôt have homosexuals like in your country.‚ÄĚ In response to a question about the rights of homosexuals, he said, ‚ÄúWe don‚Äôt have that in our country.‚ÄĚ His comments were greeted by derisive laughter from the audience.
Paula Ettelbrick, executive director at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) expressed dismay at this response. ‚ÄúIt is extremely unfortunate that the President of Iran, who used a prestigious academic forum to speak the ‚Äėtruth‚Äô about his country, nevertheless spoke so disingenuously about the human rights situation in Iran,‚ÄĚ said Ettelbrick. ‚ÄúThe Iranian President‚Äôs stark denial of our reality reflects his government‚Äôs ongoing refusal to recognize the basic human rights of LGBT people.‚ÄĚ She said IGLHRC and other human rights organizations have documented widespread and systematic violations of the rights of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in Iran. ¬†
In preparation for the forum, IGLHRC had sent questions to the moderator, hoping that he would raise the issue of LGBT rights in Iran. IGLHRC expressed its gratitude to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger and to the moderator, Professor Coatsworth, for addressing these issues. This was the first time that a sitting Iranian president had been confronted with a question about the mistreatment of the LGBT community in a public forum.
Ettelbrick further stated, ‚ÄúWhile some of our closest allies have protested Columbia‚Äôs decision to provide President Ahmadinejad with a public forum, it was precisely because such a forum was created that he was challenged and held accountable for his policies.‚ÄĚ Despite Ahmadinejad‚Äôs denial of the existence of sexual minorities, IGLHRC recognized that it was very important to challenge him on this issue. The skeptical laughter that Ahmadinejad‚Äôs response provoked from the audience suggested that it was far from convincing. IGLHRC said this underscores the value of freedom of speech - the basis of all other human rights - for holding governments accountable for their actions.
The question raised by the moderator emphasized that the international community recognizes the plight of thousands of Iranian gay and lesbians, who are either forced into exile or face daily harassment through state-sanctioned discrimination because of their sexual identity. IGLHRC asked Ahmadinejad to defend the rights of all Iran‚Äôs citizens, regardless of their ethnicity, political opinion, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. IGLHRC said it had hoped the Iranian President would use this opportunity to reflect upon the legitimate concerns of the international community about his government‚Äôs domestic and international policies.
On Sept. 24, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation‚Äôs largest gay civil rights organizations, issued a statement on Ahmadinejad. He pointed out when Ahmadinejad was confronted with Amnesty International figures suggesting that Iran had executed 200 people this year, including people labeled as homosexuals, Ahmadinejad said, ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt you have capital punishment in the United States? You do too. In Iran there is capital punishment.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúToday‚Äôs assertions by President Ahmadinejad that there are no homosexuals in Iran would be simply absurd were it not for the fact that international human rights watchers have long documented some of the most horrific acts of persecution and violence committed against gay people in Iran,‚ÄĚ said Solmonese. ‚ÄúThese acts of terror have included incarcerations, beatings, and brutal executions.‚ÄĚ He added, ‚ÄúAhmadinejad‚Äôs denial that there are gay people in Iran shows the extent to which he devalues the lives of the many citizens his government has and continues to violate.‚ÄĚ
Upon monitoring the Iranian press reaction to President Ahmadinejad‚Äôs speech and comments at the Monday forum hosted by Columbia University, on Sept. 25, IGLHRC discovered an odd disparity. The English version of the President‚Äôs official Web site, www.president.ir, provides a full and complete transcript of his speech and the question & answer segment where he claimed that homosexuality does not exist in Iran. However, the Persian-language transcript has excised both the question about treatment of lesbians and gay men in Iran and Ahmadinejad‚Äôs soon to be legendary response.
The President‚Äôs Web site purportedly provides the authoritative transcripts of his speeches and is relied upon by the news media in Iran. To date, IGLHRC reports, not a single Persian-language media outlet in Iran - including Iran‚Äôs official news agency, IRNA, and the semi-independent news agencies, ISNA, Mehrrnews, and Farsnews, and the morning newspapers - has reported on the President‚Äôs comments.
After Ahmadinejad‚Äôs speech on Monday, when Professor Coatsworth moderated the question & answer session, among the questions was why Iran has executed citizens who are homosexuals, to which the President responded, ‚ÄúIn Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don‚Äôt know who‚Äôs told you that we have it.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe first reaction of many of us was to join in the astonished response to President Ahmadinejad‚Äôs clearly outrageous view that no lesbian or gay people live in Iran,‚ÄĚ said Ettelbrick. ‚ÄúBut the whitewashing of his comments from the eyes and ears of most Iranian citizens speaks to something more troubling. His denial attempts to simply erase from public view the lives of men and women who face regular abuse in his country,‚ÄĚ She added, ‚ÄúPerhaps he knows he could not credibly get away with such a denial among his own people.‚ÄĚ
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is a leading human rights organization solely devoted to improving the rights of people around the world who are targeted for imprisonment, abuse, or death because of their sexuality, gender identity, or HIV/AIDS status. IGLHRC addresses human rights violations by partnering with and supporting activists in countries around the world, monitoring and documenting human rights abuses, engaging offending governments, and educating international human rights officials. A non-profit, non-governmental organization, IGLHRC is based in New York, with offices in San Francisco, Johannesburg, and Buenos Aires.
As a side note, Craig Ferguson on the CBS Late Late Show on Sept. 26 noted that when the President of Iran said there were no homosexuals in his country, Ferguson thought he was telling a joke. Then he said since he is in such denial, he probably has issues. Then they showed a photo of him in a harness. He finished off saying the President wore a Members Only jacket, so he had better smuggle some gay folks into his country to teach him how to dress!