Tuesday, 31 March 2009

IMHRO: the Iranian government should immediately release Kurdish women’s rights activist: Ronak Safarzadeh

Iranian Minorities’ Human Rights Organisation (IMHRO)



In October 2007, a Kurdish women’s rights and human rights activist, Ronak Safarzadeh, was arrested after attending a meeting in the city of Sanandaj to commemorate the International Day of the Child where she also gathered signatures in support of the Campaign for Equality

The next day, the security service raided her home and arrested her. Since that time, she has remained in prison. Ronak is a member of the
One Million Signatures Campaign and a women’s rights activist, who campaigns for the equality of women and their rights in Iran.

Sadly, Ronak has not been allowed any contact with her family. Moreover, officials will not provide her family with any information about her. Her family does not even know where she is or anything about what is happening to her, although they learned in this past week that her arrest order was renewed and that she has not been provided with an attorney

IMHRO condemns this treatment of women’s rights and human rights activist Ronak Safarzadeh and calls for her immediate release.

Background of women’s rights in Iran

Following the 1979 revolution in Iran, women were among the first to be suppressed. The Iranian government ordered the retirement of most female government staff, including army and police officers. In minority areas, which traditionally have been based on shame culture, these new government policies opened the way for huge increases in “honour killings”, forced marriages and further repression.

Moreover, most human rights activists and intellectuals had to leave the country because of their work and beliefs. Of those who remained in Iran, many have been arrested and some have even been raped and executed in prison.

In recent years, a new movement of women’s rights activists has started in Iran. However, the response of the Iranian government to women’s demands, like always, has been brutal. Most activists, after spending a few years in prison, have been banned from higher education and employment.


Please write to one or more of the following and ask them to put pressure on the Iranian government to release Ronak Safarzadeh. When you write, please express your concern for Ronak Safarzadeh and ask the Iranian authorities to drop all the charges against her.

Secretary General United Nations
The Honourable Ban Ki-moonUnited Nations Headquarters,

Room S-3800,
New York, NY 10017,

Supreme Leader of Iran
Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei,
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Islamic Republic Street - Shahid Keshvar Doust Street
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
E-mail via web site

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Ms. Navanethem (Navi) Pillay
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,

Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10,

Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad
The Presidency
Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
E-mail via web site

European Parliament Human Rights Committee
Bureau d'Hélène Flautre au Parlement Européen, 8G130, rue Wierz, B-1049, Bruxelles,

Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahroudi
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaiyeh / Office of the Head of the Judiciary
Pasteur St, Vali Asr Ave
South of Serah-e Jomhouri,
Tehran 1316814737, Islamic Republic of Iran




Monday, 30 March 2009

AFP: Home-made booze kills 10 in Iran

TEHRAN (AFP) — Ten people have died from drinking poisoned home-made booze in a northern Iranian province despite a ban on alcohol consumption, the Mehr news agency reported.

The report issued late on Tuesday did not specify when the deaths occurred but said the incident took place in Rasht, the capital of the province of Gilan.

Quoting local police commander Bahman Ameri Mogaddam, Mehr said at least 27 people were being treated in hospital after consuming the spirits and that two were in critical condition.

Iran is an Islamic country where the production and consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited.

Violations are punishable by jail or the lash, but this has not stopped significant smuggling, especially across Iran's western borders, and deaths from drinking poisoned alcohol are regularly reported.

Home-made spirits are largely consumed in poorer neighbourhoods, but the use of industrial chemicals in their production poses serious health risks.

In November, 12 people died in similar circumstances in the port city of Bandar Abbas.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

FCO: Annual Report on Human Rights 2008

United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights celebrated its 60th anniversary this year. One of its forerunners was the ‘Cyrus Cylinder’, a declaration by Cyrus, King of Persia until 530 BCE, which is sometimes described as the first known charter of human rights. However, Iran’s human rights record today is dismal. In 2008, Iran has continued to execute juveniles, harass activists and human rights defenders, and demonstrated no tolerance toward activists; it has clamped down rigidly on any form of dissent, opposition or organised protest. Charges such as ‘propaganda against the Islamic Republic’, ‘acting against national security’ and ‘organising illegal gatherings’ have become increasingly common. A Human Rights Watch report of January 2008 quoted an Iranian activist as saying “The articles on security are so general that you can detain anyone for anything and give him a prison sentence”.

Key concerns

Death penalty

We have repeatedly called on Iran to abolish the use of the death penalty and yet the overall number of executions in Iran remains high. According to international estimates, at least 320 people were executed in 2008, and Iran has the highest execution rate per capita in the world. Many of the most basic minimum standards surrounding the use of capital punishment remain absent in Iran. Executions have been carried out in public, and there have been instances of mass executions: 29 people were hanged in July and 10 people were executed at Evin prison on 26 November.

Sentences such as stoning to death and ‘being thrown from a height’ continue to be handed down by judges, and the death penalty remains on the statute books for adultery and consenting same-sex relations.

Despite international condemnation, Iran continues the practice of juvenile executions, and according to Amnesty International at least 130 young offenders remain on death row in Iran’s prisons. At least seven juvenile offenders were executed in 2008, one of whom was under the age of 18 at the time of execution. The age of criminal responsibility in Iran is stipulated by Shari’a law: age 9 for girls and 15 for boys.

However, Iran is signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which set the age of maturity as 18 years old and forbid the sentencing of juvenile offenders to capital punishment or life imprisonment without the possibility of release. We are calling for Iran to respect its international obligations and end its practice of executing juveniles.

Freedom of expression

“Iran is the only country that can ban a journalist from writing for the rest of his life,” said Akbar Ganji, journalist and human rights defender, who served six years in prison for his contributions to several reformist dailies.

The Iranian constitution contains provisions that should protect freedom of expression and belief: Article 23 states that “No one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief” and Article 24 provides for freedom of expression in press and publications. In practice, however, those who exercise these rights are liable to arrest and imprisonment, and several reformist publications have been closed down or had their licences revoked.

Shahrvand-e Emruz, the leading reformist weekly current affairs magazine, had its licence revoked in October, and a leading centrist newspaper, Tehran-e Emruz, was shut down in early 2008. One of the leading remaining reformist newspapers, Kargozaran, was closed down in December – the authorities explained that this was because it had printed a letter from a student activist group which was
critical of Hamas.

We have witnessed that there is an increasing focus on individuals’ connections to foreign institutions, individuals or sources of funding. The government routinely applies broadly conceived security laws to accuse anyone from students to women’s rights campaigners to trade unionists of ‘acting against national security’, ‘receiving funding from abroad’ or ‘planning a revolution’. Many of those detained for expressing their beliefs are routinely subjected to physical and psychological abuse as part of the interrogation process. We have received reports of prisoners being kept in solitary confinement and denied access to friends and family, and even legal counsel.

Sleep deprivation, beatings, threats and 24-hour interrogations are common tactics. After being held for weeks or even months without formal charge, many detainees are then released on bail or with a suspended prison sentence. The threat of being returned to jail is often used to intimidate them against any further activism or dissent. Many are subject to travel bans preventing them from leaving the country.

Prominent human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr Shirin Ebadi has been subject to a campaign of intimidation since December 2008, when her Centre for Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) was forcibly closed. The authorities claimed this was because the Centre was not officially registered – but in reality the Ministry of the Interior has been sitting on the centre’s registration application for years. The CHRD campaigns for human rights in Iran and provides legal representation to political prisoners and support to their families. Many of its members – such as lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani – have been detained in the past for no more than carrying out their duties as a lawyer.

International attention has been considerable, and the EU and UN Secretary-General have condemned the actions of the Iranian authorities, which represent an attack on the entire human rights movement in Iran.


Given Iran’s history of tolerance and the rich and diverse mix of religion and ethnic groups that make up Iranian society, it is disappointing that members of religious and ethnic minorities are so often subject to human rights violations, including intimidation, arbitrary detention, confiscation of property, denial of education and inequality in legal matters. Large numbers of Iranian Kurd and Azeri activists remain detained on charges of endangering national security.

The Bahai faith is not recognised as an official minority religion under the Iranian constitution, and Iranian officials often refer to Bahai as a ‘perverse sect’. Recent information suggests that the situation is worsening with Bahai facing state-sponsored persecution, personal threats, restrictions on employment, expulsion from university and high school, and continued defamation in the media. On 14 May, six members of the Bahل’ي national coordination group were arrested: Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm. Mahvash Sabet, the first leader to be detained, was arrested on 5 March. They remain detained without formal charges, and have been
denied access to appropriate legal counsel.

Although Christianity is one of the three minority religions recognised by Iran’s constitution, we have serious concerns about the treatment of those Iranians who have converted to Christianity. We have received a number of worrying reports in recent months about the detention of Christian converts, including Mahmoud Matin-Azad and Arash Basirat, who were arrested in May and charged with apostasy.

Ramtin Soodmand was released on bail in November having served three months and after having been reportedly charged with ‘propaganda against the regime’. Concerns remain over his future as he may still face charges of apostasy, and could ultimately face the death penalty should a draft penal code currently under
consideration by the Iranian parliament be adopted.

This draft code stipulates that apostasy, heresy and witchcraft be punishable by death – the first time this would be mandatory in Iran. There is widespread international concern about the impact that these provisions, if adopted, would have on religious minorities in Iran, and the Bahá’í community in particular.


Women continue to face widespread discrimination in law and practice, despite President Ahmadi Nejad’s claims that Iranian women are the ‘freest in the world’. Gender inequality is widespread and sustained by Iranian law. For example, unless her ex-husband is a drug addict or in prison, a divorced woman must hand over custody of her sons when they reach two years of age, and of her daughters when they reach seven. Judicial officials often discriminate between the sexes, and sentences of stoning to death for adultery are disproportionately handed down To women.

We are concerned by growing repression against women’s rights defenders, who are peacefully campaigning to redress gender-based discrimination in Iran. Negin Sheykholeslami, a Kurdish woman campaigning for women’s rights, was recently released on bail having been detained since October and denied access to medical care.

Dozens of women connected to the Campaign for Equality (which aims to collect a million signatures in Iran and calls for an end to legalised discrimination against women) face harassment and arrest for ‘actions against national security’ and ‘propaganda against the system’. At the end of 2008, several campaign activists remained in detention without charge or trial. A student, Esha Momeni, was recently released on bail having been charged with national security offences for documenting the campaign’s activities for her thesis.

Trades unions

The UK condemns the continued harassment, persecution and ill treatment of trades unionists and labour activists in Iran. This is in breach of Iran’s international legal obligations: as a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), it is committed to uphold the right to freedom of association and to collective bargaining. This includes the obligation to allow for independent trades union activities, which remain illegal in Iran.

Farzad Khamangar is a 33-year-old teacher and union and human rights activist from Kurdistan province. He has been sentenced to death by the Iranian government and has reportedly been severely tortured. Despite international protests his execution sentence has not been revoked.

Our 2007 Report drew attention to the cases of Mansour Ossanlou, President of the Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, and Mahmoud Salehi, a labour rights activist serving four years’ imprisonment for having organised an independent rally on International Labour Day. The UK has consistently condemned their imprisonment for legitimate labour rights activities, and they have been the object of strong international lobbying by international trades unions and numerous human rights organisations.

Mr Salehi was released after serving one year of his four-year sentence, but Mr Ossanlou remains in prison and has been charged with alleged distribution of
propaganda against the regime. In November, Ossanlou was reportedly beaten up on his return to prison after a hospital visit, and his health check-ups have since been cancelled.
False Promises

We have frequently expressed our concern at Iran’s refusal to respect its international obligations as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, we have also seen numerous examples of Iran ignoring more recent commitments which it has freely made.

In August, Iran’s judiciary announced a suspension on execution by stoning, as a result of which several women had their sentences commuted. We believe this
was prompted by the international outcry over the last known stoning case, which occurred in 2007 in Qazvin province, breaking a moratorium on the practice that
had been in place for five years. Therefore, we were deeply concerned by reports that two men were executed by stoning on 26 December.

In October, the Iranian judiciary announced a ban on the execution of juvenile offenders. Hopes were shortlived, however, when the same spokesman clarified thefollowing day that the ban would not apply to acts punishable under Shari’a law, which covered all juvenile executions known to have taken place in Iran this year.

Two weeks later, a seventh juvenile was executed, and confirms reports that an eighth was executed at the end of December.

While we welcome any Iranian efforts to improve the human rights situation, we are concerned that Iran appears to be making misleading statements,
which are not backed up by action. The UK and the EU call on the Iranian authorities to ensure that any such directives are immediately enforced by the adoption of a legally binding and generally applicable provision such as a law voted by the Iranian parliament.

UK action

There are countless individuals in Iran committed to improving the human rights situation in their country despite the intimidation and harassment that they face.
Iranian human rights defenders tell us that international attention does have an impact on the situation on the ground. In addition to offering them moral support byshowing that their efforts and the difficult circumstances they are facing are not being ignored, it has also contributed to positive developments in individual casessuch as the commuting of death sentences and the revocation of stoning sentences.

To this end the UK, along with our EU partners, monitors the situation in Iran closely, and adopts a strong public line when human rights violations occur. We have raised human rights concerns with Iranian officials on at least 40 occasions in 2008 through bilateral meetings and with our EU partners, calling for Iran to uphold its obligations under international human rights conventions.

We also take action at the UN and co-sponsored a resolution on human
rights in Iran at the UN General Assembly in December. That this resolution was adopted for the sixth consecutive year sends a strong and consistent message of the international concern at the human rights situation in Iran to the Iranian government.

Forward look

We will be closely monitoring developments in the presidential elections in June 2009, as we have concerns over how free or fair the electoral system really is. TheIranian people deserve a genuine democratic choice about their country’s future and the chance to elect representatives with a wide range of views. However, in this election, as in every other, all candidates are subject to strict vetting by the conservative Guardian Council, whose clerical members are all appointed by the Supreme Leader himself.

We are disappointed by Iran’s continued disinclination to engage constructively with the international community to address human rights concerns, including refusing to accept formal representations on human rights from the EU, and their reluctance to talk seriously about human rights in any forum. In this context the most significant impact we can have is to ensure that international attention remains focused on the human rights environment in Iran.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

IMHRO talked about Minorities in Iran in Scunthorpe

Iranian Minorities’ Human Rights Organisation (IMHRO)



IMHRO attended meeting on 17th of February in Scunthorpe amnesty group and talked regard of Minorities in Iran.

Meeting was very successful and IMHRO researcher Reza Washahi talked about discrimination against the minorities in Iran.

Meeting followed by question session in the end.

IMHRO is committed to raise the awareness regard of human rights of Ethnic
, Religious, Gender and Sexual minorities in Iran.

Reporters without borders: Internet enemies


Iran leads the way in the Middle East in repression of the Internet. According to the Tehran prosecutor general’s adviser, the authorities Blocked five million websites inn2008. However the country has The region’s most militant bloggers, four of whom are currently in prison.

Internet penetration is above average in the region and in the run-up to presidential elections due on 12 June, the authorities appear to be stepping up their control. The main service providers rely on the state-run Iranian Telecommunications Company (ITC). Despite the existence of private companies, the state remains the main actor in the market and instructions given by the Minister of Culture and Islamic Orientation, Mohammed Saffar Harandi, are quickly applied.

The Iranian parliament’s justice commission on3 November 2008, decided to set up a new filtering committee ratifying some articles in the draft law on “Internet offences”. However, since 2003, the government has already had in place
a commission dedicated to establishing a blacklist of websites seen as “illegal”, including YouTube, Facebook and Orkut. Moreover, a draft law dating from 2 July 2008, is in the process of being adopted, that punishes with the death penalty “the creation of blogs and websites promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy”.

A special prosecutor’s office makes decisions on censorship and is made up of a team of computer specialists. Tehran’s Prosecutor General of Tehran, Said Mortazavi, said that it was planned that “two special inspectors will work together with the security services”. “This prosecutor’s office has already dismantled two groups working against the government on the Internet,” he added in an interview with the official news agency Fars. In this way, “The Internet will be made safe because anti-religious and immoral activities will be tried there”. The commander of the “special forces for moral security” said on 8 February 2009 that “identifying banned websites and arresting Internet users that go on them is one of [its] responsibilities”. It was the first time that the police raised this subject.

Crackdown on political bloggers increases in run-up to presidential elections

The pro-government press considers the Internet to be “subversive”. The authorities in 2008, arrested or questioned 17 bloggers, seven more than in 2007. More than 38 news websites were censored and in the run-up to presidential elections, foreign news websites are also being censored.

The Persian-language website of the German media Deutsche Welle
(,,641,00.html) has been inaccessible since 26 January, as has the Persian-language site of Radio France International ( and the Arabic-language site of
al-Arabiya television (
Reporters Without Borders’ tests carried out on 26 and 27 January, found the blocking was affecting the cities of Tehran, Qom, Ahvaz, Karaj, Tabriz, Bousher, Meched and Chiraz. Against this background, Esmail Jafari, editor of the blog Rah Mardom (Voice of the People -, was sentenced
on 6 December to five months in prison for having covered a demonstration in front of the city prefecture by around 20 workers in Bushehr, south-west Iran, in protest at being sacked, in April. He was sentenced for “publicity against
the regime” and “revealing information abroad”.

Since 24 January 2009, several news websites criticising government policy or belonging to potential opponents of the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have also been made inaccessible by various service providers. Farda News ( and Parsine (
www.parsine. com), both close to Tehran mayor, Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, a rival of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been closed down. Likewise, on 22 February two sites were blocked that supported the candidacy of the reforming ex-president Mohammad Khatami to the 12 June presidential elections. They were Yarinews, an information portal for Khatami supporters and the website Yaari, which collects messages of support for the former president.

Repression not only affects the authors of critical comments about the outgoing president, who is determined to protect his political image ahead of 12 June, Journalist Mojtaba Lotfi was arrested on 8 October for posting online remarks
by the ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a renowned opponent of the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Revolution, as well as remarks by the ayatollah Ali Khamenei, critical of a statement by President Ahmadinejad that Iran was the “world’s freest country” (

He was sentenced on 29 November 2008 to four years in prison and five years banishment by a special cleric court in the city of Qom, in the central-north of the country. The blogger Hossein Derakhshan, who is often invited to speak about the state of the Internet at international conferences, was arrested on 1st November 2008. One of the reasons for his arrest was posting articles about key figures of the Shiite faith on his blog (

According to his family, he is still being detained, while an investigation into his case is being held.

Women continue to be targeted for harassment
by the authoritiesCrackdowns on Internet users and the Internet are all the more significant since they are recognized internationally for their criticism of the policies of President Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian women’s collective behind the campaign, “One million signatures for the abolition of discriminatory laws against women”, launched in 2005, won the Simone de Beauvoir prize for the freedom of women on 9 January 2009, securing themselves a major role in this struggle. Posting the collective’s message online ensured high visibility on the international scene. But on the other side of the coin, it also ensured unprecedented hounding by the authorities.

Women bloggers who took part in this campaign were summoned to a revolutionary tribunal at least three times in 2009. Five of them (Parvin Ardalan, Jelveh Javaheri, Maryam Hosseinkhah and Nahid Keshavarz) were sentenced to six months in prison for “publishing news against the regime”. The authorities’ accusations centre on their contributions to the online newspaper Zanestan (The City of women- and Tagir Bary Barbary (Change for equality -

At the end of 2008, Tagir Bary Barbary suffered its 18th incident of blocking in two years and its eighth. The blog, run by Jila Bani Yaghoub, lawyer and director of who regularly defends rights for women in Iran, is also inaccessible. Blogger Shahnaz Gholami, a member of the Association of Women Journalists (ARZ), who has been particularly involved in the women’s rights struggle, spent 69 days in custody. This editor of the blog Azar Zan ( was arrested because the authorities considered that “the articles were damaging to national security” and that “the accused clearly said that she had posted these articles on her weblog”.

Another sign of deteriorating freedom of expression in Iran came on 21 December when the Circleof Human Rights Defenders, providing free legal aid to Iran’s journalists and human rights activists, founded in Tehran in 2002 by lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, was closed on the order of the authorities.

More information: : website of a student
organisation on human rights in Iran (Farsi). : news website of the
conservative party (Farsi). : news website of the reformist
party (Farsi). : website of the official
news agency (English and Farsi). : Tagir Bary Barbary -
(Change to equality - Farsi and English): feminist
newspaper to which Maryam Hosseinkhah
contributes. : website of the Association
of Iranian Women (Farsi). : Iranian feminist
website (Farsi). : website of the
Circle of Human Rights Defenders (Farsi).

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

IMHRO attended a meeting in Beeston – Nottinghamshire

Iranian Minorities’ Human Rights Organisation (IMHRO)



IMHRO attended meeting on 12th of January in amnesty Beeston – Nottinghamshire and talked regard of Minorities in Iran.

Meeting was very successful and recent suppression cases regard of minorities discussed and reviewed. In the meeting Reza Washahi from IMHRO attended.

In the end of meeting was question and answer session.

IMHRO is committed to raise the awareness regard of minorities in Iran. Minorities in Iran are suffering from discrimination against them.

Monday, 23 March 2009

The Christian Post: Iranian Extremists Threaten to Kill 3 Ex-Muslim Pastors

By Ethan Cole
Christian Post Reporter

An Iranian Muslim extremists group identifying themselves as “Hezbollah” sent a letter to three Iranian pastors with a Muslim background threatening them to return to Islam or else risk being murdered.

The radical group calls itself “The Hezbollah Party, Army of the World’s Imam” and accused the pastors of being spies for foreign powers, according to Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN). The extremists demanded the Iranian pastors denounce their faith in Christ and return to Islam.

In the letter delivered to the Iranian pastors on March 11, the group said they are “aware of all anti-Islamic activities” that the men were doing in the churches in Athens and other places.

“And we know that you with some other agents of espionage organizations in the disguise of European and American pastors are deceiving the Muslims, that unfortunately are escaping and going adrift from Iran and Afghanistan and other Arabic countries and changing their religion and their faith, converting them like this into the false Christianity,” the letter read, according to FCNN, which received a copy of the letter from the Farsi-speaking Christian Church in Athens and translated it to English.

Although the three Iranian pastors live and serve in Athens, the Iranian extremists threatened them and their families with death.

The letter warned that if the pastors do not return to Islam, then according to Islamic law or sharia, they will be declared apostates and the authors of the letter will “fulfill our religious duty towards you.”

“You are standing against The Holy Organized Republic Islamic, and also to the billions of Islamic people,” the letter read. “Be aware that in these days that the power of the Islamic world is growing, it’s army and economy’s success have blinded the American and European government and have defeated and scared them. “You betrayers of your own Islamic countries have forgotten it and have your hands into the satanic hands of this criminal and thief governments and have become the missionaries of their corrupted goals.”

At the conclusion of the letter, the extremists warned that “very quickly all the Europe, America, Israel, and all other satanic authorities of the world will be destroyed with the hands of Islam, the only most holy religion would be increased and scattered throughout all the world and will lead the world.”

“We wait for you that are deceived to come back to the embrace of Islam and confess,” wrote The Hezbollah Party, Army of the World’s Imam.

For the past five years, the Iranian Baptist Church in Athens has been ministering to many Iranian and Afghani residents in Greece as well as refugees and students who for various reasons left Iran to seek asylum. There are an estimated 150 churches around the world that are ministering to Iranians and Afghanis living outside of their country, FCNN reported.

BBC: Royal asylum seeker's Welsh home

For a short period after the British left India in the late 1940s Baluchistan was an independent nation bordering Afghanistan and Iran.
By Carl Roberts The Politics Show, Wales

A royal asylum-seeker from the Baluchistan province of Pakistan is living in Cardiff while he attempts to take the plight of his people to the International Court of Justice.

Khan Suleman Daud, the 35th Khan of Kalat, has been seeking asylum since July 2007, while at home he owns palaces and employs hundreds of staff.

You've probably never have heard of Baluchistan, but Khan Suleman is determined to put it back on the political map.

At home in his three-bedroom home in Cardiff, His Highness - as it says on his passport - is surrounded by historical agreements signed by his forefathers and the British rulers of India in the 19th Century.
"I chose Cardiff because of the weather, and life is a bit easier here than a more cosmopolitan city like London," he said. "Life is too fast there. And the main thing is that you have mountains around you so whenever I get bored and remember my country... I take a stroll over there and a walk."

“ Of course I'll go home, whether I live or die my graveyard is over there ” Khan Suleman Daud, the Khan of Kalat.

For a short period after the British left India in the late 1940s Baluchistan was an independent nation bordering Afghanistan and Iran.

It also shared a border with Pakistan - until Pakistan took it over in 1948.
Some Baluch still bear a grudge against the British for not defending them against the Pakistani "invasion".

These days Baluchistan, in south western Pakistan, is seen as a haven for the Taleban. President Obama this week said he was considering US drone attacks in the area to counteract Taleban insurgents near the capital, Quetta.

Khan Suleman says the Baluch people have also come under attack from Pakistani authorities in an attempt to dampen down Baluch moves for self determination and even independence in the area.

Asylum application
He fled his homeland in 1997 and vowed to travel to the International Court of Justice in The Hague over what he sees as Pakistani atrocities against his people.
He has applied for political asylum - fearing he would be killed if he returned home. But the Khan's asylum application has been rejected, and that rejection was upheld at an asylum tribunal in November 2008.

He is currently appealing against that decision in the House of Lords on a point of law.

In a statement, the UK Border Agency said that they would not remove anyone from the UK while there are any outstanding legal appeals or applications - so he's not going anywhere - certainly not home.
"I am here because of my people and because of what they have given me to take to the international court (of justice). I've come here to do whatever I can for the plight of my people, and your government has left me marooned on this island," he said

Last ally

Taleban forces are tolerated in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, and the Khan says that young people feeling persecuted by Pakistan could turn to the Taleban.
He plans to return home one day but he has a warning for his people's former ally - the UK Government.

"Of course I'll go home, whether I live or die my graveyard is over there. The thing is that your government is acting in a very short-sighted way. They should think long term.
"The only people who are secular in that region are the Baluch, and if you (the UK Government) want to lose your last ally on the ground... that is your choice," he said.
The Pakistani High Commission has been asked for a statement but have not responded yet.

AFP: US journalist held in Iran in 'dangerous' state

CHICAGO (AFP) — A US journalist who was supposed to have been freed from an Iranian jail has been reduced to a "dangerous" mental state by her continued imprisonment, her family said Thursday.

"She is under great psychological pressure and her condition seems to be dangerous now," Reza and Akiko Saberi wrote in an open letter begging Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to release their daughter."We are very worried about her health and fear that something tragic may happen to her."

On March 9, the ISNA news agency reported that Hassan Haddad, Tehran's deputy prosecutor for security matters, said Roxana Saberi, 31, would be freed "within a few days."

But when the family's lawyer attempted to make a bail payment, he was told that officials "cannot free her now," her father Reza Saberi said in a telephone interview."They didn't tell the lawyer what they're going to do next."
The US-born journalist with dual Iranian nationality was sobbing when she was visited Wednesday by her lawyer, her father said.

"I know my daughter. She's very sensitive. To keep her in confinement for 47 days and not tell her what will happen -- it's very hard on her," said Saberi, who now lives in North Dakota after immigrating from Iran decades ago.
"Physically there doesn't seem to be any harm but her mentality has been very poor."

Saberi has only spoken to his daughter once since her January arrest on what he initially thought to be charges of buying alcohol, which is prohibited in the Islamic republic.

He later came to believe she was arrested for her work as a reporter.
The Iranian foreign ministry said in February that Saberi was working "illegally" in the country after her press card was revoked in 2006.

Later Iran's judiciary said she had been arrested on the orders of a revolutionary court, which handles security charges in Iran, and kept in Tehran's Evin prison.
Saberi, who has reported for NPR, the BBC and Fox News, has been living in Iran for six years, working as a journalist and pursuing a master's degree in Iranian studies and international relations.

She was also writing a book about Iran, her father said, and was planning to move back to the United States later this year.

Iran, which does not recognize dual nationality and has had no ties with the United States for three decades, has detained several Iranian-Americans, including academics, in recent years.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson has been missing for two years since vanishing on the Gulf island of Kish. On March 8 the US State Department reiterated its call for Iran to help locate him, but has said no information has been forthcoming from Tehran on the case.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

New York Times: Iranian Blogger Dies in Prison

Human rights groups and an American-financed radio station report that an Iranian blogger, Omidreza Mirsayafi, who had been sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the country’s leaders, died in Tehran’s Evin Prison on Wednesday.

According to Radio Farda, a Farsi-language station that is part of the American-government-financed network of radio stations Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Mr. Mirsayafi’s family is not certain that authorities told them the truth about how the blogger died:

Prison authorities have notified Mirsayafi’s family that he committed suicide on March 18 by overdosing on sedative tablets. But while Mirsayafi was known to have taken such medication to treat depression, his sister says he would not have possessed enough to kill himself.

Radio Farda adds that Mr. Mirsayafi’s lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, “claims that a doctor imprisoned at Evin named Hesem Firozi told him the death could be attributed entirely to the prison’s failure to provide Mirsayafi with proper medical assistance.” Mr. Dadkhah told the radio station that the imprisoned doctor told him that Mr. Mirsayafi, reportedly in his mid- to late 20s, had an irregular heartbeat, possibly as the result of taking an overdose, but that his life could been saved if the prison hospital had responded appropriately. According to Mr. Dadkhah’s account:

“The doctor told them how to treat him, asked them to send him to a city hospital. But they ignored the doctor and said [Mirsayafi] was faking his illness. The doctor said, ‘His heartbeat is 40 per minute, you can’t fake that.’ But they sent the doctor out of the room.”

According to Reporters Without Borders: “Most of the articles on Mirsayafi’s blog were about traditional Persian music and about culture.” The rights group, which campaigns for press freedom, explains that Mr. Mirsayafi was sentenced last month to “two years in prison for ‘insulting’ the Islamic Republic’s leaders and six months in prison for ‘publicity against the government.’”

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports that:
In an interview with the Campaign on 16 December 2008, Mirsayafi said his blog was completely private and was read only by a few of his friends. He also said that expert testimony by an Intelligence Ministry official during his trial emphasized this point and that he should not receive such a heavy sentence.
After Mr. Mirsayafi was convicted he told Reporters Without Borders: “I am a cultural and not a political blogger. Of all the articles I have posted online, only two or three were satirical. I did not mean to insult anyone.”

The rights group adds that it recently received an e-mail from Mr. Mirsayafi in which he wrote: I am worried. The problem is not my sentence of two years in prison. But I am a sensitive person. I will not have the energy to live in prison. I want everything to be like it was before. I want to resume my normal life and continue my studies.

Jay Pickthorn/The Forum, via Associated Press Reza Saberi, in his Fargo, N.D. home on Feb. 28, with a photograph of his daughter, Roxana Saberi.
Earlier this week, the father of the Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi,
told Lindsey Hilsum of Britain’s Channel 4 News that he had spoken to his daughter, who is still being held in Evin Prison.
He added that waiting for her release is “a nightmare.” Ms. Hilsum reported on Channel 4’s World News blog that Reza Saberi said his daughter “didn’t sound terribly good,” when he spoke to her on a telephone in Evin Prison on Monday. “She said life in prison is psychologically challenging.” That is, as Ms. Hilsium says, obviously an understatement. Mr. Saberi added: “We told her to hang on, and not give in. The whole world is with her.”
Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the U.S. State Department had been working through intermediaries to win Ms. Saberi’s release, and an Iranian official said that Ms. Saberi would be released “within days.” Her father told Ms. Hilsum that if his daughter was not released by the start of the Iranian New Year’s celebrations this Friday evening, she is unlikely to leave Evin Prison before the end of the two-week holiday.

RFE/RL: Female Genital Mutilation Said To Be Widespread In Iraq's, Iran's Kurdistan

By Golnaz Esfandiari

Tahereh vividly remembers the day in her native town of Marivan in Iran when she was circumcised with a razor, leaving her with physical and psychological pain that endures nearly 45 years later."We were five sisters --we didn't really understand what was happening.

My mother just said that someone was coming to our house," says 48-year-old Tahereh, who is one of many women who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) in Iranian Kurdistan. "Then they took all of us -- we were 2, 3, 4 years old -- and the operation was done," says Tahereh, who asked that her real name not be used.FGM, defined as the intentional alteration or injury of female genital organs for nonmedical reasons, is common in many northern African countries as well as some places in Asia and the Middle East.

But rights activists and NGO workers say the practice, also known as female circumcision, is also widespread in Iraq's and Iran's Kurdish regions. Cases have also been registered in Western countries, primarily among immigrants from regions where the practice is widespread. It is estimated that more than 100 million women and girls have been subjected to FGM, which usually entails the partial removal of the clitoris, and is usually performed by local midwives.

Long-term health consequences can result from the procedures, including infection, painful sexual intercourse, psychological trauma, and sterility.Under the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, for example, states should not invoke any custom, tradition, or religious consideration to avoid their obligation to eliminate violence against women.While FGM is not inherent to any nation or religion, cultural and religious traditions are among the reasons given in support of the practice.

In some societies, FGM can signify a woman's eligibility for marriage. In some instances, it is used to reduce sexual desire. In other cases, misguided medical or health beliefs are cited. Kurdish AreasIn the Kurdish areas of Iran and Iraq, supporters of the practice say it controls women's sexual desires and makes them "clean." Food prepared by uncircumcised women, for example, can be considered unacceptable. No precise figures are available. But women's rights activists estimate the number of mutilated women in Kurdish cities and villages is high.

Parvin Zabihi, a member of a women's rights group based in Iran's Kurdistan called the Committee Against Sexual Violence, has researched female circumcision in the Kurdish-populated areas in Iran. "One of my friends carried out some research in a classroom at a school in the Piranshahr area. Out of the 40 students, 38 were local -- and out of those 38, 36 had been circumcised. We came across many cases [of FGM] wherever we went to investigate," Zabihi says.
Until then I didn't really understand; but when I understood how damaging it was, I prevented it and didn't let it happen to my younger daughtersThomas Von Der Osten-Sacken, the director of Wadi, a German nongovernmental organization that has worked in Iraqi Kurdistan for more than a decade, says the organization's research among Iraqi Kurds and also Iranian Kurds based in northern Iraq has shown that the practice of FGM is prevalent in the region.
"I think it's not wrong to say that within the Iraqi and Iranian Kurdistan the rate of the mutilated girls and women is in average about 60 percent," Sacken says.For many people in the region, FGM is an ancient tradition while others refer to it as a religious obligation.While there is no mention of female circumcision in the Koran, some refer to a hadith -- or narrative -- attributed to the Prophet Muhammad in which he instructs a woman performing circumcision on a young girl to "cut off only the foreskin but do not cut deeply.

"It is not clear why the practice is widespread among Iranian and Iraqi Kurds. In Iran, FGM cases are also reported in southern regions including in Khuzestan. But Von Der Osten-Sacken says that, according to the Shafii Islamic school to which most Iranian and Iraqi Kurds belong, female circumcision is obligatory for women.
"We found that wherever you have the Shaafi school of law, female genital mutilation is extremely widespread. That might be also one the reasons why you can't find it so much in Turkey or Syria's Kurdish communities -- because they're mostly Hanafi," Sacken says.Some others, according to Zabihi, believe the practice was brought to Iran by Arabs."Ronak Faraj writes in her book 'The Circumcision of Girls' that the reason for its [prevalence] in Iran's and Iraq's Kurdistan is the Arab invasion of Iran," Zabihi says."She says in the book that the practice exists in the places where the Arab army invaded Iran -- they set circumcision as a condition for men and women.

"Changing AttitudesWhile both Zabihi and Von Der Osten-Sacken agree that FGM is deeply anchored in Kurdistan's traditions, they believe that attitudes are slowly changing. The Wadi director says the fight against female circumcision is gaining some support among young people, Kurdish intellectuals, and some politicians in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Women's rights activist Zabihi says education and raising awareness about women's issues is a key factor that prevents some Kurds from following the tradition of their ancestors."Many educated men and women -- after getting married -- they don't let their daughters be circumcised. So fortunately it is decreasing here," Zabihi says.But even Tahereh conceded that, under pressure from her family, she had her eldest daughter circumcised. But she didn't let her two other daughters go through it.

Those who support FGM, she says, do not know it creates misery for girls. "[My eldest daughter] now complains about me for [not having prevented it]. Until then I didn't really understand; but when I understood how damaging it was, I prevented it and didn't let it happen to my [younger daughters].

RFE/RL's Radio Farda broadcaster Roya Karimi contributed to this report

TheStar: Minister backs refugee status for gay Iranians

Tonda MacCharles OTTAWA BUREAU

OTTAWA – The cause of gay refugees who flee persecution in Iran only to face harassment in Turkey has caught the attention of the federal immigration minister, who says Canada is willing to facilitate their resettlement here.
Jason Kenney wrote the Canadian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to urge quick processing of their applications after a story appeared last month in the Toronto Star.

That story centred on Iranian Arsham Parsi, now a Toronto-based advocate whose "Iranian Queer Railroad" project tries to help gay and lesbians in legal limbo in Turkey reach Canada or the United States.

"I can't imagine more legitimate grounds for protection than folks who are facing potential execution in Iran for their sexuality," Kenney said in an interview. "These are people who are clearly in need of protection, and Canada has already received a number of gay and lesbian Iranian refugee claimants through the UNHCR, typically through Turkey."

Kenney suggested Canada had accepted a few dozen. His office could not provide a more precise number as this type of "persecution" is not specified for "government assisted refugees."

Parsi told the Star he recently helped secure refugee status from the UNHCR office for 45 Iranian gays, who were awaiting interviews at the Canadian and U.S. embassies.

Kenney said Turkey "deserves credit" for being a place of initial refuge for the asylum seekers, but added "it is not an ideal permanent settlement location, and a lot of them are stuck in pretty awkward circumstances while they're waiting for their applications for status to be processed."

Kenney's letter to the UNHCR says "homosexual Iranians who have been granted asylum in Turkey are subjected to persecution (random beatings, harassment, etc.) in the country of asylum, and that homosexual Iranians are in a uniquely precarious position."

Kenney told the Star more gay and lesbian Iranians could be accepted here under current targets. "We have targets for both government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees that are set for different regions of the world and I believe that within those targets we could easily accommodate more of these folks as government-assisted refugees, which is how they would be if they're coming in through the UNHCR." But Kenney said he cautioned their Canadian-based advocates they must ensure "these are legitimate claims." The Immigration and Refugee Board has recently rejected what it says is a number of fraudulent claims based on sexual orientation.

Kenney also said Ottawa was looking "at ways to address the issue" of the low number of visa approvals for Iranians. Canada has a "very awkward diplomatic relationship with Iran," he said, which makes it difficult for visa officers attempting to enter Iran under diplomatic passports. "It's a sensitive matter, and I don't want to say anything more."

VOA: Iran's Deteriorating Human Rights

The Iranian government's poor record on human rights deteriorated even further in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of State's latest annual report on human rights conditions in Iran.

The government of Iran intensified its systematic campaign of intimidation against women's rights defenders, ethnic minority rights activists, labor leaders, journalists, students and religious minorities, said the report. Civil liberties, including freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion were severely restricted. Iran's security forces committed acts of politically motivated abduction, torture, and severe, officially sanctioned punishment, including death by stoning, amputation, and flogging.

The State Department report noted that in March 2008, student activist Ahmad Batebi fled Iran after prison authorities allowed him to leave Evin prison for medical treatment. The government had sentenced Mr. Batebi first to death, then to fifteen years in prison, after the photo captured of him, holding up the bloodied shirt of a fellow student, made the front page of the Economist magazine in 1999. Security forces had violently broken up the anti-government student protests.

Mr. Batebi reported that prison and security officials had brutally tortured him while he was in Evin.In an interview in Washington, Mr. Batebi said it was important that the U.S. and other countries continue to voice support for the Iranian people who are being oppressed for demanding their basic human rights:
"Iranians want freedom and democracy. They want an environment in which they have social equality, and where they would be able to decide their own future. They want to be able to claim their demands in a legal, secure and non-violent way.

They want the system to leave them ways to express their demands."Ambassador Karen Stewart, U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said at the news briefing announcing the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices that promoting human rights is and remains a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy. "We will continue to encourage Iran to abide by its international commitments to respect human rights. And in this report," said Acting Assistant Secretary Stewart, "we call attention to where we see the problem areas."

MNN: Church grows, crackdown continues

Iran (MNN) ― A great spiritual hunger in Iran has caused many to turn away from traditional Islam, resulting in an ever-increasing number of conversions. Words of Hope President Lee DeYoung says that conversion is viewed as a serious offense in Iran, and the government continues to hunt those suspected of turning to Christianity. "We continue to hear reports of government inquiries," DeYoung says, "and people being called in for questioning about alleged Christian activities." Many believers have taken to exercising their faith "underground" to avoid officials' prying eyes.

"It shows that the government of Iran is still very vigilant and concerned." DeYoung adds that in Iran, conversion could result in punishment by death. Many Iranians are tired of the disillusionment associated with Islam and Iran's government. The disillusionment has resulted in a great spiritual hunger in Iran. As the hunger grows, so does the number of converts to Christianity; God's family is growing despite continued persecution.

"The work of God in Iran testifies to the power of the Gospel," said Victor Atallah, founder of the Middle East Reformed Fellowship (MERF).

MERF partners with Words of Hope in Iran to broadcast Christian programming into Iran. Every night, Iranians tune in to God's Word broadcast in Farsi, their native tongue. Believers are also encouraged through the Internet and Biblical training offered by WOH. DeYoung urges sustained prayer for believers in Iran as governmental pressure continues.

"People there are courageous," DeYoung said. "They need wisdom, and they need God's protection so that they can continue to minister in Jesus' name both on the radio and in other ways."If you'd like to become involved in supporting Words of Hope's work in Iran, click here to make a donation.

RFE/RL: Iranian Dervishes Detained Following Isfahan Clashes

PRAGUE -- Sufi dervishes say several of their colleagues have been injured and about 30 of them arrested after a confrontation with police in the central Iranian city of Isfahan. Iranian security forces attacked the dervishes, who had gathered next to the tomb of dervish poet Naser Ali where their house of worship was located. The incident came one day after local authorities demolished the house of worship of the Gonabadi dervishes in Isfahan.

"We thought the job of the police forces is to bring security for people, now we know it's not the case," one dervish who witnessed the clashes told RFE/RL.The Gonabadi dervishes have announced they will gather on February 21 in front of the Iranian parliament in Tehran to protest the demolition of their prayer house and what they describe as a violation of the rights of dervishes. State pressure on dervishes and other religious minorities, including Baha'is, has increased in Iran in recent months.

Gay City News: Iran's Hidden Homosexual History


When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made his infamous claim at a September 2007 Columbia University appearance that ""In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country," the world laughed at the absurdity of this pretense.
Now, a forthcoming book by a leading Iranian scholar in exile, which details both the long history of homosexuality in that nation and the origins of the campaign to erase its traces, not only provides a superlative reply to Ahmadinejad, but demonstrates forcefully that political homophobia was a Western import to a culture in which same-sex relations were widely tolerated and frequently celebrated for well over a thousand years.

"Sexual Politics in Modern Iran," to be published at the end of next month by Cambridge University Press, is a stunningly researched history and analysis of the evolution of gender and sexuality that will provide a transcendent tool both to the vibrant Iranian women's movement today fighting the repression of the ayatollahs and to Iranian same-sexers hoping for liberation from a theocracy that condemns them to torture and death
.Its author, Janet Afary, president of the International Society of Iranian Scholars, is a professor of history and women's studies at Purdue University who has already published several authoritative works on Iranian sexual politics, notably the revealing and award-winning
"Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islam" (2005), in which she already demonstrated a remarkable sympathy for gay and lesbian people.
In her new book, Afary's extensive section on pre-modern Iran, documented by a close reading of ancient texts, portrays the dominant form of same-sex relations as a highly-codified "status-defined homosexuality," in which an older man - presumably the active partner in sex - acquired a younger partner, or amrad.
Afary demonstrates how, in this period, "male homoerotic relations in Iran were bound by rules of courtship such as the bestowal of presents, the teaching of literary texts, bodybuilding and military training, mentorship, and the development of social contacts that would help the junior partner's career.
Sometimes men exchanged vows, known as brotherhood sigehs [a form of contractual temporary marriage, lasting from a few hours to 99 years, common among heterosexuals] with homosocial or homosexual overtones.
"These relationships were not only about sex, but also about cultivating affection
between the partners, placing certain responsibilities on the man with regard to the future of the boy. Sisterhood sigehs involving lesbian practices were also common in Iran.
A long courtship was important in these relations. The couple traded gifts, traveled together to shrines, and occasionally spent the night together. Sigeh sisters might exchange vows on the last few days of the year, a time when the world 'turned upside down,' and women were granted certain powers over men."Examples of the codes governing same-sex relations were to be found in the "Mirror for Princes genre of literature (andarz nameh) [which] refers to both homosexual and heterosexual relations.
Often written by fathers for sons, or viziers for sultans, these books contained separate chapter headings on the treatment of male companions and of wives."One such was the Qabus Nameh (1082-1083), in which a father advises a son: "As between women and youths, do not confine your inclinations to either sex; thus you may find enjoyment from both kinds without either of the two becoming inimical to you... During the summer let your desires incline toward youths, and during the winter towards women.
"Afary dissects how "classical Persian literature (twelfth to fifteenth centuries)...overflowed with same-sex themes (such as passionate homoerotic allusions, symbolism, and even explicit references to beautiful young boys.)" This was true not only of the Sufi masters of this classical period but of "the poems of the great twentieth-century poet Iraj Mirza (1874-1926)... Classical poets also celebrated homosexual relationships between kings and their pages."Afary also writes that "homosexuality and homoerotic expressions were embraced in numerous other public spaces beyond the royal court, from monasteries and seminaries to taverns, military camps, gymnasiums, bathhouses, and coffeehouses... Until the mid-seventeenth century, male houses of prostitution (amrad khaneh) were recognized, tax-paying establishments.
"While Afary explores the important role of class in same-sex relations, she also illuminates how "Persian Sufi poetry, which is consciously erotic as well as mystical, also celebrated courtship rituals between [men] of more or less equal status... The bond between lover and beloved was... based on a form of chivalry (javan mardi). Love led one to higher ethical ideals, but love also constituted a contract, wherein the lover and the beloved had specific obligations and responsibilities to one another, and the love that bound them both... Sufi men were encouraged to use homoerotic relations as a pathway to spiritual love.
"Unmistakably lesbian sigeh courtship rituals, which continued from the classical period into the twentieth century, were also codified: "Tradition dictated that one [woman] who sought another as 'sister' approached a love broker to negotiate the matter. The broker took a tray of sweets to the prospective beloved. In the middle of the tray was a carefully placed dildo or doll made of wax or leather. If the beloved agreed to the proposal, she threw a sequined white scarf (akin to a wedding veil) over the tray... If she was not interested, she threw a black scarf on the tray before sending it back.
"As late as the last half of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th, "Iranian society remained accepting of many male and female homoerotic practices... Consensual and semi-open pederastic relations between adult men and amrads were common within various sectors of society." What Afary terms a "romantic bisexuality" born in the classical period remained prevalent at court and among elite men and women, and "a form of serial love ('eshq-e mosalsal) was commonly practiced [in which] their love could shift back and forth from girl to boy and back to girl.
"In the court of Naser al-Din Shah, who ruled Persia from 1848 to 1896, keeping boy concubines was still an acceptable practice, and the shah himself (in addition to his wives and harem) had a young male lover, Malijak, whom he "loved more than anyone else." In his memoirs, Malijak recalled proudly, "the king's love for me reached the point where it is impossible for me to write about it... [He] held me in his arms and kissed me as if he were kissing one of his great beloveds."In a lengthy section of her book entitled "Toward a Westernized Modernity," Afary demonstrates how the trend toward modernization which emerged during the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 and which gave the Persian monarchy its first parliament was heavily influenced by concepts harvested from the West.
One of her most stunning revelations is how an Azeri-language newspaper edited and published in the Russian Caucuses, Molla Nasreddin (or MN, which appeared from 1906 to 1931) influenced this Iranian Revolution with a "significant new discourse on gender and sexuality," sharing Marx's well-documented contempt for homosexuals. With an editorial board that embraced Russian social democratic concepts, including women's rights, MN was also "the first paper in the Shi'i Muslim world to endorse normative heterosexuality," echoing Marx's well-documented contempt for homosexuality. Afary writes that "this illustrated satirical paper, which circulated among Iranian intellectuals and ordinary people alike, was enormously popular in the region because of its graphic cartoons.
"MN conflated homosexuality and pedophilia, and attacked clerical teachers and leaders for "molesting young boys," played upon feelings of "contempt" for passive homosexuals, suggested that elite men who kept amrad concubines "had a vested interested in maintaining the (male) homosocial public spaces where semi-covert pederasty was tolerated," and "mocked the rites of exchanging brotherhood vows before a mollah and compared it to a wedding ceremony."
It was in this way that a discourse of political homophobia developed in Europe, which insisted that only heterosexuality could be the norm, was introduced into Iran.MN's attacks on homosexuality "would shape Iranian debates on sexuality for the next century," and it "became a model for several Iranian newspapers of the era," which echoed its attacks on the conservative clergy and leadership for homosexual practices. In the years that followed, "Iranian revolutionaries commonly berated major political figures for their sexual transgressions," and "revolutionary leaflets accused adult men of having homosexual sex with other adult men, 'of thirty-year-olds propositioning fifty-year-olds and twenty-year-olds propositioning forty-year-olds, right in front of the Shah.'
Some leaflets repeated the old allegation that major political figures had been amrads in their youth."Subsequently, "leading constitutionalists enthusiastically joined the campaign against homosexuality," writes Afary, noting that "the influential journal Kaveh (1916-1921), published in exile in Berlin and edited by the famous constitutionalist Hasan Taqizadeh, had led the movement of opinion against homosexuality... Their notion of modernization now included the normalization of heterosexual eros and the abandonment of all homosexual practices and even inclinations.
"When Reza Kahn overthrew the monarchy's Qajar dynasty and made himself shah in 1925, he ushered in a new wave of reforms and modernization that included attempts to outlaw homosexuality entirely and a ferocious - ultimately successful - assault on classical Persian poetry. Iraj Mirza, previously known for his homoerotic poems, "joined other leading political figures of this period in encouraging compulsory heterosexuality."
These politicians and intellectuals insisted that "true patriotism required switching one's sexual orientation from boys to women... Other intellectuals and educators pressed for the elimination of poems with homosexual themes from school textbooks."Leading this crusade was a famous historian and prolific journalist, Ahmad Kasravi, "who helped shape many cultural and educational policies during the 1930s and 1940s." Kasravi founded a nationalist movement, Pak Dini (Purity of Religion), which developed a broad following.
An admirer of MN, Kasravi preached that "homosexuality was a measure of cultural backwardness," that Sufi poets of homoeroticism led "parasitic" lives, and that their queer poetry "was dangerous and had to be eliminated."Kasravi's Pak Dini movement "went so far as to institute a festival of book burning, held on winter solstice.
Books deemed harmful and amoral were thrown into a bonfire in an event that seemed to echo the Nazi and Soviet-style notions of eliminating 'degenerate' art." Eventually, Prime Minister Mahmoud Jam, who held office from 1935 to 1939, acceded to Kasravi's demand that homoerotic poems be banned entirely from daily newspapers.Kasravi "based his opposition to the homoeroticism of classical poetry on several assumptions. He expected the young generation to study Western sciences in order to rebuild the nation, and he regarded Sufi poetry as a dangerous diversion.
As preposterous as it might sound, Kasravi also argued that the revival of Persian poetry was a grand conspiracy concocted by British and German Orientalists to divert the nation's youth from the revolutionary legacy of the Constitutional Revolution and to encourage... immoral pursuits."Afary adds sorrowfully that "most supporters of women's rights sympathized with Kasravi's project because he encouraged the cultivation of monogamous, heterosexual love in marriage... In this period, neither Kasravi nor feminists distinguished between rape or molestation of boys and consensual same-sex relations between adults."
The expansion of radio, television, and print media in the 1940s - including a widely read daily, Parcham, published from 1941 by Kasravi's Pak Dini movement - resulted in a nationwide discussion about the evils of pederasty and, ultimately, in significant official censorship of literature. References to same-sex love and the love of boys were eliminated in textbooks and even in new editions of classical poetry.
"Classical poems were now illustrated by miniature paintings celebrating heterosexual, rather than homosexual, love and students were led to believe that the love object was always a woman, even when the text directly contradicted that assumption," Arafy writes.In the context of a triumphant censorship that erased from the popular collective memory the enormous literary and cultural heritage of what Afary terms "the ethics of male love" in the classical Persian period, it is hardly surprising as Afary earlier noted in "Foucault and the Iranian Revolution" that the virulence of the current Iranian regime's anti-homosexual repression stems in part from the role homosexuality played in the 1979 revolution that brought the Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers to power.
In that earlier work, she and her co-author, Kevin B. Anderson, wrote: "There is... a long tradition in nationalist movements of consolidating power through narratives that affirm patriarchy and compulsory heterosexuality, attributing sexual abnormality and immorality to a corrupt ruling elite that is about to be overthrown and/or is complicit with foreign imperialism. Not all the accusations leveled against the [the deposed shah of Iran, and his] Pahlevi family and their wealthy supporters stemmed from political and economic grievances.
A significant portion of the public anger was aimed at their 'immoral' lifestyle. There were rumors that a gay lifestyle was rampant at the court. The shah's prime minister, Amir Abbas Hoveyda, was said to have been a homosexual. The satirical press routinely lampooned him for his meticulous attire, the purple orchid in his lapel, and his supposed marriage of convenience. The shah himself was rumored to be bisexual. There were reports that a close male friend of the shah from Switzerland, a man who knew him from their student days in that country, routinely visited him."But the greatest public outrage was aimed at two young, elite men with ties to the court who held a mock wedding ceremony.
Especially to the highly religious, this was public confirmation that the Pahlevi house was corrupted with the worst kinds of sexual transgressions, that the shah was no longer master of his own house.
These rumors contributed to public anger, to a sense of shame and outrage, and ultimately were used by the Islamists in their calls for a revolution."Soon after coming to power in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini established the death penalty for homosexuality.
In "Sexual Politics in Modern Iran," Afary sums up the situation for homosexuals under the Ahmadinejad regime in this way: "While the shari'a [Islamic law] requires either the actual confession of the accused or four witnesses who observed them in flagrante delicto, today's authorities look only for medical evidence of penetration in homosexual relationships. Upon finding such evidence, they pronounce the death sentence. Because execution of men on charges of homosexuality has prompted international outrage, the state has tended to compound these charges with others, such as rape and pedophilia.
Continual use of these tactics has undermined the status of Iran's gay community and attenuated public sympathy for them. Meanwhile, many Iranians believe that pedophilia is rampant in the religious cities of Qum and Mashad, including in the seminaries, where temporary marriage and prostitution are also pervasive practices." (Full disclosure: in her section on gays in today's Iran, Afary cites my reporting several times and thanks me in the book's acknowledgements for sharing materials and insights with her.)
In this necessarily truncated summary of some of Afary's most significant and nuanced findings and revelations with respect to homosexuality, it is impossible to do justice to the full sweep and scope of "Sexual Politics in Iran," the larger part of which is devoted to the role of Iranian women, and to their struggles for freedom which began in the 19th century. But as Afary herself writes, "[F]or a very long time even talking about the pervasive homoeroticism of the region's premodern culture had been labeled 'Orientalism'... [but] increasingly I found that one could not simply talk about gender and women's rights, particularly rights within marriage, without addressing the subject of same-sex relations.
"This she has done with uncommon sensitivity, intellectual rigor, engagement, subtlety, and skill.And for that, both Iranian lesbians and gays and feminists in that nation owe Afary an enormous debt of gratitude, as do all of us concerned with sexual liberation for everyone worldwide.