March 11, 2008
Testing Britain's heart and head on gay rights
Posted by: Kevin
A European government is about to be tested on how committed it really is to a gay person's most fundamental rights. This test of Britain's Labour government could take on a bigger significance - whether the liberal political and cultural traditions of Europe will truly resist the murderous onslaught of radical Islam when it comes to us gays, or simply throw in the towel.
A 19-year old gay Iranian citizen who was studying English in Britain in 2006 learned that his boyfriend back in Iran had been arrested, charged with sodomy and hanged by Iranian authorities. His family told CNN that they were then visited by police, who were holding an arrest warrant for their young relative. He immediately applied for asylum in Britain, fearing for his life. His claim was denied, and a few days before he expected to be deported back to Iran, he fled Britain in a panic and is now in a Dutch detention center awaiting his fate.
Gay rights activists in Iran, and the British Home Office as well, have said they tried to investigate the gay teenager's claims but were unable to confirm them. The Iranian activists say they did manage to locate the executed boyfriend's family, but none would talk to them.
But the young asylum seeker's family is talking. His uncle lives in Britain and is standing by his nephew forcefully, confirming all the claims that "Mehdi" (not his real name) is making, and adding that the father has "disowned his son for the shame that he has brought on the family."
It should not be any surprise that the claims are hard to confirm. When people are executed for something in gruesome public hangings, why would anyone on the street in Iran dare speak for the accused? But even if Mehdi's story is wholly true or not, the galling part of this story has been what both the Iranian regime and the British government have said in response.
For its part, the Iranian embassy in London told CNN they have "no knowledge" of Mehdi's case, despite its high international media profile. This sounded eerily similar to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement last year at Columbia University: "In Iran, we have no homosexuals." Despite boastful public announcements by Iranian authorities (including from an Iranian government minister on a visit to Britain, no less) that gays are being executed in that country "for the crime of homosexuality", and that Iranian human rights activists report that over 4,000 homosexuals have been executed by the Iranian government since the 1979 Islamic revolution, and the chilling photographic evidence [LINK WARNING: Graphic content] of the public hanging of two gay teenagers in 2005, the butchers running Iran shrug and smirk and play dumb, hoping no one will call them on their subhuman beliefs.
But when it comes to flying in the face of overwhelming evidence apart from the Mehdi case, the British Home Office's reaction was even more appalling in its sweep:
"...although homosexuality is illegal in Iran and homosexuals do experience discrimination, [the Home Office] does not believe that homosexuals are routinely persecuted purely for their sexuality."
This official statement read on the air by CNN today is part of an "outrageous and shameful" pattern by the Labour government on gay asylum cases, says British gay activist Peter Tatchell of the group Outrage!, which seems to be rather alone among most European direct-action gay groups in raising the profile of official government persecution of homosexuals in countries which Europe does business with, like Iran and Russia. Tatchell says that the British government is putting the reduction of asylum cases above their merits, and thereby is less likely to look deeply enough into a case like Mehdi's.
Whether the facts around Mehdi's claims are proven true or not -- either with new revelations, or in the form of a photo of Mehdi hanging by his neck in Iran -- there is one very clear, fundamental fact that the British government concedes: homosexuality is a crime. There is another fact that, despite their astounding double-speak, they cannot refute: that crime is being punished with death sentences, and such practices have been staunchly defended by an Iranian official on British soil.
Will the British public, knowing what they know, agree to send Iranian gays back to Iran? If so, it casts a dark pall over that nation's soul at this moment in history.
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