Monday, July 25, 2005

Exclusive interview with gay activists in Iran on situation of gays, recent executions of gay teens and the future

MAHA, Iran to all GLBT groups and individuals: "Thank you for your hard work and International engagement" Project GayRussia.Ru continues its investigation into the violent executions in Iran


Project GayRussia.Ru asked people to sign the letter to the Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran and to the Russian President Vladimir Putin against barbarism that took place in Iran, the execution of two young gays on 19 July 2005. The letters were sent last Saturday. When we ask people to support and join our actions and when we ourselves responded to the international appeal of the British gay group Outrage!, we also have the obligation to provide you with some follow up and further investigation into what happened. Here now we offer you the testimony of our contacts inside Iran. For their own safety, we will not publish their photo or contact details. But if you want to send a message to them please e-mail to contacts@gayrussia.ru and we will forward your message to Iran. Our contacts in Iran also collect information on the actions of support from different countries connected with the executions of teen gays. Please send us the information you published or campaig! ns you conducted locally or internationally. We will transfer everything to our contacts in Iran. After that they will be able to include all the information concerning support in the next issue of their electronic magazine. It will show to local Iranian gays and lesbians that they are not alone as they do not have much information from other sources! Write to us at contacts@gayrussia.ru


We conducted the interview with the publishers and distributors of MAHA, Iran's Homosexual E-Magazine in Persian (it also means "We" or "Us" in Persian language). They are located in Iran and they gladly answered to our questions about the situation of homosexuals in Iran as well as the perception of the recent event that sparked international outrage with Iranian policy.


GayRussia: Can you tell us a bit about the situation in Iran in terms of access to the information for sexual minorities? And also we would like to know about your own MAHA magazine.


MAHA: Last year, the Persian Internet operator company shut down 15 gay websites in Iran. To strike back and to provide information about GLBT rights in Iran, and to help to create a nationwide network for GLBT in the country, a few gays decided to start publishing a newspaper without a website, as they knew that the authority would close down their website, so they decided to publish a PDF format magazine and send it by email to their readers.


After 8 months of hard work, 8 issues and 4 supplements appeared, covering issues such as gay and family, depression among GLBT, a report about lesbians in Iran, etc. MAHA also publishes a separate supplement for gay aid and to help GLBT to find a friend. Today MAHA has two editors, one gay and one lesbian, and MAHA's readers are all over the country and even some Iranian GLBT in exile. Currently 600 subscribers receive our magazine and we know that more than 1000 people are reading it. This number is growing every day!

PGLO (Persian gays and lesbians organisation) is an Iranian GLBT organisation working from abroad. They publish a PDF format magazine and most important they send a weekly radio program by email to people inside Iran.

G.R.: Do you have any further details on what happened on July 19th except what was published in the international media?

MAHA: Unfortunately not much. The authorities try to give as little information as possible about issues which may cause international reaction. And as you may know there is already a worldwide reaction and protests against the execution of the two boys.

We know that the two boys (with the names of Mohammad Askari and Ayad Marhuni) belonged to Iran's Arab minority, which live in Khuzestan province, a province bordering Iraq. During the 8 years war between Iran and Iraq, the Arabs were forced to leave their home and some of them went to Mashhad in North East of Iran. The two boys were from one of these families.

We also know that the authorities have been giving conflicting messages. Some are denying that the boys were persecuted because of being gays and they put more emphasize on the boy's crime (allegedly they have raped a 13 years old boy), but according to the boys lawyer the boys had said that they did not know that such acts (sexual relations with the person of the same sex) were punished by execution. It shows that the boys were executed because of having same-sex intercourse.

The problem in Iran is that there is no harmonised authority in the country and one local authority sometimes makes a decision contrary to the other part of the country.


G.R.: Do you see a possible link with the killing and the result of the recent presidential elections?


MAHA: It's hard to say and it's too early to see such a link. We know that the newly elected president is a conservative hardliner, we know that while he was a mayor of Tehran he was very much against cultural activities (such culture activities that promote modern western life style). But we also know that he could not resist the democracy movement and NGO, as we would like to do as the desire for democracy, freedom and separation of religion from politics is indeed strong in Iran.


G.R.: Was this execution event reported in the media in Iran or not?


MAHA: Yes, it was reputed and even some of international reaction to the event was reported but as you can guess the media is controlled by the regime to a large extent.

However, inside Iran, there is a large number of NGO like children's rights, women's rights, human rights groups etc. but also Ms. Shirin Ebedadi (peace Noble prize winner) protested against the execution. The situation in Iran is so that no one can talk openly about GLBT rights so those who protested, they protested against execution of children (one of the boys was clearly under 18 years old). The other problem is the conflicting messages from authorities, so no one wants to defend someone who raped a young 13 years old boy, as authority claims now.


G.R.: What is the situation of gays in Iran? How can gays live in the atmosphere of constant fear?


MAHA: The GLBT situation in Iran has changed over the past 26 years. The regime does not systematically persecute gays anymore, there are still some gay websites, there are some parks and cinemas where everyone knows that these places are meeting places for gays, furthermore it is legal in Iran that transsexual applies for sex change and it is fully accepted by the government. There are some medias which sometimes (not often) write about such issues. Having said that, the Islamic law, according to which gays punishment is death is still in force but it is thought not much followed by the regime nowadays.

You may remember the Soviet days, there was not much info about homosexuality in your country, families and the society could not accept it and the regime did not allow GLBT to have their organisations or to spread info about the issue. The situation is pretty much the same in Iran today. But thanks to Internet and contact with the International community, people get the info and Iran society has changed a lot and support for GLBT rights is growing in Iran though we still have a long way to go.

In the recent elections there was a candidate who put "RESPECT FOR DIFFERENT LIFE STYLES" in his program. And it was something new. We do not know if he really meant gay life but we know that his front is not anti gay. In addition there is a famous political person, Mr. Akbar Ganji, who also openly talks about RESPECT FOR DIFFERENT LIFESTYLES. Add to that GLBT which is still in the beginning of its journey but it is young and determined to fight for GLBT rights. There are also opposition political groups in exile and some of them voiced their support for GLBT rights in their program.

So, on the whole, we are optimistic about the future as Iran's situation can not continue like that and people are pushing for reforms and changes.


G.R.: How do Iranian gays live knowing that they fear death penalty in their motherland and that in other countries same sex marriages are already allowed?


MAHA: Life is not easy, it is mixed with fear, uncertainty and self oppression. The biggest problem we are facing is that GLBT do not have info about their sexual desire. They simply can not find explanation to it. Why they feel as they feel (feeling for persons of the same sex), they do not know what it is. What it's called etc. but when they get the knowledge, then it is becoming much easier. Not all Iranians have access to the Internet, there are no gay bars or clubs, so creating a network of GLBT is very difficult. Bear in mind that after 8 months of publishing MAHA, still a great number of GLBT people have not got the news.

Many GLBT people are living with denial of their own sexuality, or they get married in hope to disguise and hide their deep homosexual desire or in hope to be cured of it.


G.R.: What can we do from abroad to help you?


MAHA: You have already done too much for us and we are very thankful for it. Iran's GLBT struggle is in its beginning and no doubt that we have a lot of challenges in front of us and there are a lot of obstacles we have to overcome. The authorities are not going to accept our right easily. And they may even take a hard stand against us. So we are indeed in need of International GLBT support. Please do keep an eye on Iran and demand a better life and respect for Iranian GLBT. Your support means a lot for us and gives us energy and encouragement. Despite the fact that you may not hear from Iran GLBT regarding your support, please rest assured that we hear about it and we welcome it but sometimes it is not easy to work and be in touch with our friends abroad. We would like to take the opportunity and via you say a big THANK YOU to ALL GLBT groups and individuals worldwide who are thinking of us and supporting us.


G.R.: Thank you very much for your answers in such a difficult time. We are here to support you and please do not hesitate to ask for any help you might need.



GayRussia.Ru, interview conducted by Nikolai Alekseev

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