Interview with Gay Activist in Iran
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.
GayRussia.Ru, July 25, 2005
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 email@example.com
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
campaigns 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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 boys’ 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.
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