Iran Admits It Has Gay People – “But Only a Few”, Says President Ahmadinejad
London and New York – 29 September 2008, by Peter Tatchell
The Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has done an astonishing volte-face by admitting in a US TV interview that there are lesbian and gay people in Iran.
Only last year, in a speech at Columbia University in New York, he notoriously claimed there were no lesbians and gays in his country.
“We do not have this phenomenon,” he declared.
Last week, however, Ahmadinejad grudgingly conceded there “might be a few” gay people in Iran.
“This about-turn shows that Iran realises its gay-denial stance has been widely condemned and ridiculed,” said Peter Tatchell of the LGBT human rights campaign group OutRage!, which has been campaigning in support of Iranian LGBT people for nearly 20 years.
“The fact that the President has moderated his ‘no gays’ position since last year is evidence that global gay protests are having an impact on the regime in Tehran,” said Mr Tatchell.
However, although Ahmadinejad has conceded the existence of gay Iranians, he went on to make it clear that he doesn’t approve of their existence one iota.
He denounced homosexuality as an “unlikable and foreign act” that is illegal because it is “against our values, and all divine laws… shakes the foundations of society… robs humanity… (and) brings about disease.”
The Iranian President made these remarks during his visit to New York to speak to the UN General Assembly last week. He was interviewed on 24 September by reporters Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman from the US current affairs TV programme, Democracy Now.
You can watch the full interview and read the full text on the Democracy Now website:
A verbatim transcript of the key points of this interview follows below.
In the same TV interview, Ahmadinejad made this astonishing claim:
“Sure, if somebody engages in an [homosexual] act in their own house without being known to others, we don’t pay any attention to that. People are free to do what they like in their private realms. But nobody can engage in what breaks the law in public,” he said.
“This is complete nonsense,” said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!
“Iranian law stipulates the death penalty for homosexuality, whether in public or private. People suspected of being gay have their homes raided. Private, discreet gay parties have been busted by the police and the party-goers arrested, tortured and flogged. Years ago, some of those arrested at private parties simply disappeared. They were never seen again. It is presumed they were secretly executed,” said Mr Tatchell.
When Gonzales and Goodman confronted Ahmadinejad with photos of two Iranian teenagers, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, who were hanged in July 2005, his reply showed either remarkable ignorance of Iranian law or wilful dishonesty:
“No, there is no law for their [gays] execution in Iran. Either they were drug traffickers or they killed someone else…. So, we don’t have executions of homosexuals. Of course, we consider it an abhorrent act, but it is not punished through capital punishment. It’s basically an immoral act. There are a lot of acts that can be immoral, but there’s no capital punishment for them,” said the President.
“This claim is factually untrue,” reports Mr Tatchell. “None of the charges against Asgari and Marhoni involved drug trafficking or murder.”
“In years gone past, the Iranian government proudly boasted that it had the death penalty for gay sex and that it publicly hanged gay people,” Mr Tatchell added.
“These latest statements by Ahmadinejad are much more defensive. He strenuously denies that gay people can face execution. This shows that the regime no longer has the confidence to openly proclaim its violent homophobia. The persecution of gays continues in Iran but now, unlike before, the regime seeks to hide it and deny it.
“This is strong evidence that the homophobic dictatorship in Tehran has been stung by international protests against its flogging and hanging of men involved in same-sex relations. It realises this persecution has been a public relations disaster which has greatly harmed Iran’s international image. Hence the current denials by Ahmadinejad.
“It is proof that the global protests against Iran’s persecution of lesbian and gay people have been effective. We must maintain the worldwide campaign until Iran is so embarrassed by international condemnation that it completely halts the victimisation of gays,” added Mr Tatchell.
Elsewhere in their interview with the Iranian President, Goodman and Gonzales pressed him as to why Iran is one of the few countries in the world that still executes juveniles (Asgari and Marhoni were minors when they allegedly committed the acts for which they were hanged). Ahmadinejad replied:
“The legal age in Iran is different from yours. If a person who happens to be 17 years old and 9 months kills one of your relatives, would you just overlook that?”
According to Human Rights Watch, 26 of the last 32 juvenile executions worldwide were in Iran.
Text of the section of the interview relating to gay issues
AMY GOODMAN: When the Iranian president visited New York last year, he gave a speech at Columbia University. He was asked about attitudes to homosexuality in his country.
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country.
AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, I asked the Iranian president to clarify his statement.
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] I didn’t say they don’t exist; I said not the way they are here. In Iran, it’s considered as a very unlikable and abhorrent act. People simply don’t like it. Our religious decrees tell us that it’s against our values, and all divine laws, actually, believe in the same. Who has given them permission to engage in homosexual acts? It’s considered as an abhorrent act. It shakes the foundations of a society, the family foundation. It robs humanity. It brings about diseases.
It should be of no pride to the American society to say that they defend homosexuals and support it. It’s not a good act, in and by itself, to then hold others accountable for banning it. And it’s not called freedom, either. Sure, if somebody engages in an act in their own house without being known to others, we don’t pay any attention to that. People are free to do what they like in their private realms. But nobody can engage in what breaks the law in public.
Why is it that in the West all moral boundaries have been shaken? Just because some people want to get votes, they are ready to overlook every morality? This goes against the values of a society. It is the divine rule of the Prophets. And then, of course, in Iran, it’s not an issue as big as it is of concern here in the United States. There might be a few people who are known. In general, our country would not accept it. And there’s a law about it, too, which one must follow.
AMY GOODMAN: July 19th is a day that is honored around the world, where two gay teenagers, Iranian teens, were hung. This is a picture of them hanging. They were two young men, named Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni. Do you think gay men and lesbians should die in Iran?
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] No, there is no law for their execution in Iran. Either they were drug traffickers or they had killed someone else. Those who kill someone else or engage in acts of rape could be punished by execution. Otherwise, homosexuals are not even known who they are to be hung, in the second place. So, we don’t have executions of homosexuals. Of course, we consider it an abhorrent act, but it is not punished through capital punishment. It’s basically an immoral act. There are a lot of acts that can be immoral, but there’s no capital punishment for them.
I don’t know where you obtained these pictures from. Either they’re a network of drug traffickers or some other—or people who generally might have killed someone else. You know that we take our sort of social security seriously, because it’s important. What would you do in the United States if someone picked up a gun and killed a bunch of people? If there is a person to complain, then there’s capital punishment awaiting the person. Or drug traffickers, if they carry above a certain amount, volume, of drugs with them, they can be executed in Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: There is the death penalty in the United States, but many in the progressive community feel that it is wrong and are trying to have it abolished.
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: [translated] Well, there are different opinions about it. It’s lawmakers, legal professionals and sociologists that must examine it, see what best suits every society, because the rights of the society sit above the rights of the individual. I don’t wish to say anything about it, to make a comment, because there are experts who must do it.