May 3, 2007
A key Iraqi gay activist was arrested and tortured in Baghdad on April 29, according to Ali Hili, the London-based coordinator of the all-volunteer Iraqi LGBT group, which has a network of members and supporters throughout Iraq.
Hani, a 34-year-old nurse whose last name cannot be given for security reasons to protect him and his family, was in the Al Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad, where he lives, searching for a taxi when he was stopped and arrested this past Sunday by five policemen riding in a police pickup truck, Hili told Gay City News by telephone from London.
"Hani was in charge of communications for our Baghdad group, and he's been a very important part of our work in reporting and documenting the campaign of persecution and murder targeting Iraqi LGBT people," Hili said.
"When Hani - who is obviously gay and a bit effeminate - was stopped by the police, who demanded his identification papers. On seeing his name, one of the police said, 'Yes, it's him, he's one of them,' which is yet another piece of evidence that the police have a hit-list of some of our activists," recounted Hili.
Hani was handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken to a police interrogation center. While he was in custody, Hani was beaten and tortured for several hours.
"The police used a screwdriver, which they pounded into Hani's legs with a hammer - sometimes the police use electric drills for this sort of torture - and they also beat him badly," Hili said.
Hili then detailed how the police pressed Hani about his ties to the organized LGBT community.
"The police tried to get Hani to admit he was a member of our Iraqi LGBT group, but he refused to say so, which is when the torture began," he said, adding: "But Hani had his cell phone with him, and on that phone he had my cell phone number - which is listed on our Web site - and the phone numbers of a number of journalists, including one from the Washington Post. The police demanded to know why Hani had these phone numbers if he was not a member of our organization, and why he was in contact with journalists if he was not a member, and also threatened him with rape if he did not admit it."
While Hani was in police custody, he heard several different voices speaking English with American accents coming from somewhere outside the room in the detention center where he was being held.
"Hani asked if he could speak to one of the American soldiers and explain why he was being detained, in the hope that he might be rescued, but the police refused to allow him access to these Americans," Hili related.
The reported presence of Americans in a police interrogation center while a gay activist was being tortured underscores the indifference of Iraq's U.S. occupiers to the dire plight of Iraqi gays and to the religiously-inspired murder campaign that has been targeting them for the past two years.
While Hani was being interrogated, a senior police officer arrived and demanded to know if Hani's family was wealthy, or if they had savings that could be used to ransom him - otherwise, he was told, he would be killed. Hani was then allowed to make a phone call to his brother, who managed to assemble some $2,000 in U.S. currency and gold, and in a series of phone calls was able to negotiate Hani's release in exchange for the money.
A rendezvous was arranged, Hani's brother forked over the shakedown money, and an hour later Hani was released, still blindfolded and with his hands tied behind his back. Hani is now in hiding at the home of a doctor, from where he was able to telephone Hili and give an account of his ordeal. Hili in turn phoned this reporter.
"Hani is suffering terribly from the wounds he received during his torture, but he does not have any medication or painkillers, which are very scarce and expensive in Baghdad now," Hili said.
The London-based activist also reported the latest documented case of murder of an Iraqi gay detained by police - Maan, a 27-year-old carpenter from the town of Taji, 20 miles north of Baghdad and the site of a large, U.S.-controlled military base.
"There were many rumors in Maan's neighborhood that he was having sex with other men," Hili said. " He was last seen on April 21, when a police squad stopped him and arrested him."
On April 25, Maan's corpse was found on the side of a road - he had been murdered execution-style, blindfolded and with several shots to the back of his head.
The arrest and torture of Hani this past Sunday is only the latest in a series of attacks on the Iraqi LGBT group, which has been targeted by the Islamist fundamentalists ever since it began getting publicity for protesting against the murderous campaign of "sexual cleansing" being waged by hard-line religious elements. This campaign began in the wake of the October 2005 death-to-gays fatwa by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the 79-year-old Iranian born-and-trained chief spiritual leader of all Iraqi Shia Muslims.
Last November 9, five underground gay activists were abducted in a police raid on a secret gay planning meeting of the Iraqi LGBT group in Baghdad's Al Shaab district (see this reporter's article, "Iraqi Gay Activists Abducted," December 7-13, 2006, url follows below.) The five activists have not been heard from since, and are presumed dead.
The Iraqi LGBT group was also specifically named last fall in a fatwa proclaimed by a mullah who is a cleric for the heavily-armed faction led by extremist Shia religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr. The edict said that "people who want to harbor and protect gays should be killed."
Another anti-gay fatwa was issued against Hili individually by Ayatollah Sistani's Council of Mullahs. Hili received an e-mailed death threat, stamped with Sistani's seal, from the ayatollah's headquarters in Qum, Iran, which the Shia consider one of that nation's most sacred holy cities.
Hili also regularly receives threats of violence and death from Sistani followers who live in the U.K.
Last fall, there were three Iraqi Interior Ministry raids on safe houses the Iraqi LGBT group maintained in Basra and Najaf. Two lesbians who ran a Najaf safe house as a refuge for children forced into the commercial sex trade were murdered, their throats slashed.
Sistani's original death-to-gays fatwa inspired the deployment of anti-gay death squads by the Badr Corps, the military arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the most powerful political Shia group in Iraq and now the cornerstone of the U.S.-approved Iraqi government. SCIRI considers Sistani its spiritual and political guide and the Bush administration has assiduously courted both Sistani and SCIRI throughout the U.S. occupation.
The Badr Corps was integrated into the Iraqi Interior Ministry last fall, and its members now wear police uniforms and are able to operate with full police powers.
Gay City News first broke the story about the systematic murder of Iraqi gays last March (see this reporter's article, "Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays, U.S. Indifferent," March 23-29, 2006, url follows below).
A January Human Rights Report of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) confirmed the organized "assassinations of homosexuals" in Iraq (see this reporter's article, "U.N. Confirms Iraqi Gay Killings," January 25-31, 2007, url follows below). The report said UNAMI had been "alerted to the existence of religious courts, supervised by clerics, where alleged homosexuals would be 'tried,' 'sentenced to death,' and then executed."
Hili emphasized the toll the continuing campaign of murder has on his group's ability to provide concrete assistance to Iraqi gays in need.
"When Hani was arrested, he had on him $500 in cash which I had just wired him, money that was to be used to support one of the safe houses we maintain in Baghdad for gays who have been forced to flee their homes because of death threats, but the police stole the money like gangsters," Hili said. "We are a poor organization, and the loss of this sum was significant for us. We are so short of cash we are being forced to close two of our safe houses in the south of Iraq this month because we can no longer afford to pay the rent."
These closures will reduce from five to three the number of safe houses in Iraq maintained by the Iraqi LGBT group.
"We not only have to pay rent for these safe houses and for electricity, we also have to feed the guys in these houses, and pay for their health care and medications - some of them are HIV-positive - because they are not able to go out in public or find work for fear of being killed," Hili said. "We beg our gay American brothers and sisters for help, because the troops that are in my country in their name could not care less about the horrible situation gay people face in Iraq since the invasion and since the institution of a regime which is under the sway of anti-gay religious fanatics and is approved by the U.S."
Contributions to the Iraqi LGBT group will be used to fund its safe houses in Iraq, sustain those sheltered in them, continue and extend the group's ability to report on and document the lethal anti-gay campaign of sexual cleansing, and help refugee Iraqi gays fleeing death threats to find asylum in gay-friendly countries. Credit cards may now be used to make donations to Iraqi LGBT via a secure PayPal account on the group's Web site at http://iraqilgbtuk.blogspot.com/ (click on the button marked "Make a Donation").
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND.
Doug Ireland's reporting in Gay City News regarding Iraq's LGBT community include the Shia death squad campaign against gays, his story of the abduction of activists last November and a story on a U.N. report on the anti-gay death campaign in Iraq.