Gays killed in Iraq, others allegedly sentenced to death

by Rex Wockner

International News Briefs

Seven gay men were murdered in Baghdad's Sadr City district in late March and early April, activists and media reported.

Three men were shot by fellow Shiite tribe members on April 2 and four were killed by tribe members around March 26.

Some of the bodies were found with notes attached that said "pervert."

The killings came after influential clerics in the district preached against homosexuality.

The New York Times reported April 8 that over the past two months as many as 25 gays have been killed in the area. Police believe relatives of the deceased have committed most of the murders to alleviate family shame.

The Times and CNN also reported that a cafe that served as a meeting place for Sadr City gays was recently torched.

Meanwhile, the London-based group Iraqi LGBT says five of its members in Baghdad have been sentenced to death by the government for running or belonging to a banned organization, and that the executions will be carried out promptly.

Group founder Ali 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," Hili 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. ... This is a situation that's both desperate and extremely dangerous, given that lives may be at stake. 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."

It 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."

In response to the reports from Baghdad, San Francisco's Gays Without Borders chapter consecrated the base of the rainbow-flag pole at Castro and Market streets in Harvey Milk Plaza as "The Tomb of the Unknown Gay" on April 6.

"We took this action because of wire reports from Baghdad about the murder of at least six gay men in the last two weeks, killed because of their homosexuality and (because of) repugnant religious hatred stirred up by Muslim clerics," said Michael Petrelis, one of 15 activists who attended the ceremony. "The names of the dead have not been reported in any news accounts, hence, the designating of the area for unknown and unnamed gays."

City Supervisor Bevan Dufty took part in the demonstration and later introduced a resolution in the Board of Supervisors calling "on the US Department of State to use all diplomatic channels to stop the persecution of Iraqi LGBT citizens and immediately stop the murders of Iraqi LGBT citizens."

The resolution instructs the board's clerk to send the resolution to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the State Department's Iraq desk and San Francisco's congressional delegation.

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