Ali Hili is the founder member of Iraqi Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender UK, a group of asylum seekers who having fled Iraq, are now reporting on the sharp increase there in homophobic beatings, torture and murder. The group is in contact with an underground network of LGBT people in Iraq’s main cities of Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Hilla, Duhok and Basra, who are risking their lives to report on the violence.
The picture they paint is a nightmare scenario of hatred against anyone who is thought to be a “deviant”: death threats against anyone suspected of being gay; people being beaten and killed in the street. Unveiled girls, boys who have long hair, liberals and progressives are also being executed.
Ali and his group members began their campaign when they heard of the torture and murder in 2004 of an transsexual friend back home. Ali says, “She was part of our LGBT social group which met regularly in the early 90s. In Baghdad we had many gay nightclubs, parties and coffee shops.” In pre-Kuwait war Iraq, LGBT people were tolerated, and permitted certain freedom to meet and socialise — although it was still very much underground. The sanctions that were imposed on Iraq after 1991 devastated Iraqi society and the relaxed attitudes to gays tightened up severely. But according to Ali, the last period in Iraqi history is worse than under Saddam. He knows of at least 40 gay men who have been murdered in recent months.
“The occupation is promoting sectarianism, and religious communalism is becoming entrenched.” Ali says.
The main perpetrators of the violence against LGBT people are the Islamist Shi’ite militias of Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Badr Corps — the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. These militias have also infiltrated the Iraqi police, and more alarmingly now control government ministries.
Recently the group secured the over-turning of an anti-gay fatwa from Ayatollah Al-Sistani, which declared that gays should be killed in the “most severe way possible.” After two weeks of negotiations between Iraqi LGBT-UK and Sistani’s office, the fatwa was removed from the website, yet peculiarly they refused to remove the fatwa urging punishment for lesbianism. Clerical preaching of hatred against LGBT people is translating into bloodshed on the streets of Iraq.
Ali’s group has got press attention for some horrific cases.
Karim, aged 38, survived a hand grenade attack by Badr Corps on his house in the Al-Jameha district of Baghdad in 2004. The attack left him with severe facial disfigurement and shrapnel in his body. The Badr Corps also murdered his partner, Ali, at his house, also in the Al-Jameha district, shooting him as he tried to escape.
Haydar Faiek, aged 40, a transsexual Iraqi, was beaten and burned to death by Badr militias in the main street in the Al-Karada district of Baghdad in September 2005.
The group also highlighted the murder of 14 year old Ahmad. As the poverty and near starvation increases in Iraq, many young boys and girls are being forced to sell their bodies to feed themselves. Ahmad was one such boy. Last month, he was dragged out of his house by men in police uniforms and shot in the head. The gunmen told the boy’s father that he was executed for “corrupting the community”.
Another case, featured in the Times recently was that of Karazan, who was handed a note declaring that he was to be killed for being gay. His family was then threatened with death if they didn’t hand him over to a militia controlled by SCIRI. Karazan and his family have fled their home in fear.
For those lucky enough to run away, Iraqi LGBT have been instrumental in the setting up of safe houses in Baghdad to hide from the militias. “It’s like the way the Jews hid from the Nazis”, Ali says. The group has also set up an underground network to help people to leave the country.
All this vital work needs support, and Iraqi LGBT desperately needs donations to help fund computers, phone cards and internet links, as well as paying for people’s safe passage out of Iraq.
For those Iraqi LGBT people who have found their way to the UK, the homophobic persecution has not ended. Ali has started receiving death threats from supporters of the Shiite militias in the UK. Also he has had to struggle to claim asylum in the UK — another shameful example of New Labour’s homophobic and racist asylum laws. On his arrival at Waterloo, and after declaring he was an Iraqi gay man who wanted to claim asylum, he was subjected to homophobic abuse from officials.
“The officials said they would listen to my case, but instead they forcibly put me back on the train into France. But I had not come all of this way to just be sent back without a fair hearing. I was trapped on the train with officials blocking all the doors. They had taken my belt off me and put it in my bag, which was in the luggage compartment. I managed to grab it and tied the belt around my neck. I tried to kill myself and jumped out on the platform. I was then assaulted by seven officials who scrambled on top of me”. Ali’s desperate stand secured him a hearing, and he is currently fighting to stay permanently in the country.
The work that Ali and Iraqi LGBT are doing in Iraq is both brave and inspirational. They need our support!
• Iraqi LGBT UK does not yet have bank account. It is working closely with the LGBT human rights group OutRage! In London. Donations to help Iraqi LGBT in the UK and in Iraq should be made payable to “Outrage!” with a cover note marked “For Iraqi LGBT”, and sent to: OutRage, PO Box17816, London SW14 8WT, England, UK