Galloway’s Iranian propaganda?
The Respect MP has turned on supporters of gay rights in Iran and falsely accused us of war-mongering
By Peter Tatchell
The Guardian – Comment Is Free – 26 March 2008
Left-wing Respect MP George Galloway has been accused of making allegations that border on paedophile smears and play to homophobic prejudice. He claims that the boyfriend of gay Iranian asylum seeker Mehdi Kazemi was executed for “committing sex crimes against young men.”
The insinuation of such a claim is that Mehdi’s boyfriend was a rapist or a child sex abuser. It also stigmatises Medhi with the shame that he was the partner of someone who committed sexual assaults on male youths. He may now suffer with this stigma when he is returned to the UK and could face considerable personal hostility from people who have heard and believe these allegations against his boyfriend. Mr Galloway made his astonishing allegation on The Wright Stuff programme on Channel 5 television. You can watch his interview here:
He has been asked to explain the source of his claim, but has so far failed to do so. I am not aware of any paedophile-style sex abuse claims against Mehdi’s partner. Moreover, no human rights group has mentioned any evidence that Mehdi’s boyfriend was a rapist or a child molester. Although the regime in Tehran frequently defames political, religious, ethnic and sexual dissidents with false claims of kidnapping, rape, alcoholism, sodomy, adultery, drug-taking and hooliganism, even the most extreme ayatollahs have not made allegations that Mehdi Kazemi’s boyfriend was involved in sex abuse. Nevertheless, Mr Galloway has broadcast this very serious, potentially defamatory, allegation to the British public, and has then failed to back it up with evidence. To some people, Mr Galloway’s claims look like propaganda in defence of the totalitarian, homophobic Islamic Republic of Iran. His passionate opposition to a war against Iran, which I share, seems to have clouded his judgement; leading him to downplay the regime’s persecution of lesbians and gays, which includes state-sanctioned executions. In the same interview for The Wright Stuff, Mr Galloway went on to state: “All the (British) papers seem to imply that you get executed in Iran for being gay. That’s not true.”
His claim that lesbian and gay people are not at risk of execution in Iran is refuted by every reputable human rights organisation, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the International Lesbian and Gay Association. None of these esteemed bodies are anti-Iran war-mongers, as Mr Galloway has subsequently seemed to imply. The left-wing US journalist, Doug Ireland, has documented cases of the flogging and execution of men who have sex with men in Iran.
These are just the cases we know about. It is likely that some similar executions never get media coverage in Iran and are therefore unknown to the outside world. The Iranian Queer Rights Organisation also confirms that homosexuality is a capital offence and that gay Iranians are subjected to brutal punishments, including torture and hanging.
The government of Iran admits that it has the death penalty for homosexuality. Gay people are sometimes tortured to make confessions – even false confessions. Iranian law makes no distinction between consensual and non-consensual same-sex relations. Both are punishable by execution. If Iran doesn’t execute queers, why does it need to retain the death penalty for same-sex relations? Why doesn’t it repeal a law it supposedly never enforces? Why doesn’t it announce a moratorium on hangings for homosexuality? As with other dissidents, gay men are usually hanged in public by the barbaric slow strangulation method which is deliberately designed to maximise and prolong the suffering of the victim. These gruesome public barbarisms are also designed to terrorise the gay population. To discredit the gay people it hangs, and to stir up public homophobia in support of its mediaeval religious-inspired punishments, the regime sometimes frames gay people with false charges of rape and child sex abuse. It wants to create the impression that homosexuals are monsters, in order to deter men from seeking same-sex relations. This is what happened in the case of 21-year old Makwan Moloudazdeh, who was executed in Iran last December.
He was hanged for alleged sex offences against male teenagers, when he was himself a mere 13 years old. Amnesty International condemned his trial “grossly flawed” and a “mockery of justice.”
Human Rights Watch reports that Makwan was coerced and tortured into making a confession.
According to Amnesty International, his accusers retracted their sex assault allegations and admitted that they had been pressured into making false claims against him.
Even if Makwan had been guilty, as charged, he should never have been hanged because the alleged offence was committed while he was a minor. Strong evidence for Makwan’s innocence is the fact that hundreds of villagers turned out for his funeral; which would not have happened if the official Iranian account that he was a child sex abuser was true. In a second interview on The Wright Stuff, Mr Galloway launched into a scurrilous attack on Medhi’s friends and supporters, and the defenders of lesbian, gay and bisexual human rights in Iran, including myself: “This (Mehdi Kazemi’s case) is a useful story for the war propaganda machine, the khaki machine now taking on a tinge of pink….what I will not accept is people being used, as Tatchell is, as the pink end of the war machine. That’s what Peter Tatchell has become by attacking Iran in the way that he does.”
At the anti-war protest in London on 15 March, which I supported and attended, Mr Galloway repeated these claims in his keynote speech. He said the “khaki war machine now has its pink contingent.” He went on to imply that people who support gay rights in Iran are “useful idiots” and said their aim is to “bamboozle the public to go along with mass murder in Iran.”
It is untrue and deeply offensive to suggest that those of us who oppose homophobic persecution in Iran are backing the bombing and invasion of Iran. We are not. I am on record in my writings and speeches as opposing an attack on Iran. When, for example, I exposed Tehran’s racist and neo-colonial persecution of its Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority, I stated categorically: “I am part of a new campaign group, Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI).
“HOPI opposes both a US war on Iran and the tyranny of the Iranian regime. My motto is: Neither Washington nor Tehran! “A war against Iran would be another disastrous neo-imperial adventure, which would strengthen the Tehran dictatorship. President Ahmadinejad would play the patriot and manipulate nationalism to rally the population behind him. He would use a US military attack as an excuse to further crack down on dissent in the name of safeguarding national security. “The overthrow of the theocratic police state by the Iranian people – not by US military intervention – is the best way to resolve the nuclear crisis and prevent a needless, unjustified war. With no dictatorship in Tehran, President Bush and the neo cons would lose the rationale for a military strike against Iran.”
Mr Galloway’s insinuation that I am banging the war drum and siding with imperialism is both laughable and dishonourable. For nearly 40 years I have supported the Iranian people’s struggle against dictatorship, first against the western-backed Shah and, since 1979, against the clerical tyranny of the ayatollahs. I have been totally consistent. I am not suddenly focussing on Iran’s human rights abuses and doing the dirty work of the Washington neo-cons, as Mr Galloway seems to suggest. Undeterred by criticisms that his outbursts collude with homophobia and with a viciously anti-gay regime in Tehran, Mr Galloway boasts: “I have an unblemished record of support for lesbian and gay equality.” Well, not quite. The Public Whip website (which monitors MP’s votes) notes that Mr Galloway did not vote on 8 out of 10 of the major parliamentary votes on gay law reform in recent years.
His repeat absence is a strange way to express support for gay rights. Most other MP’s turned up to vote. Why not George? Mr Galloway is, of course, a Respect MP. A commitment to gay rights was entirely absent from Respect’s 2005 general election manifesto. Some insiders claim gay equality was originally included but was removed to appease Muslim fundamentalist voters (this assumption by Respect that all Muslims are homophobic fundamentalists is just plain wrong – they are not). The policy section of the Respect website has included a one-line opposition to discrimination based on sexual orientation but it is hidden away under “Other policies.” Not exactly upfront. One of Respect’s major funders is Dr Mohammed Naseem. He is a one-time member of their executive and was a Respect parliamentary candidate. He is also a leading member of the Islamic Party of Britain (IPB) which appears to advocate the death penalty for consenting adult homosexuality in certain circumstances. http://www.mustaqim.co.uk/ipb-archive/question/ans41.htm The IPB is viciously homophobic in other respects too, as its website explains:
And as my OutRage! colleague, Brett Lock, has revealed:
Dr Naseem is a strange bedfellow for a supposedly pro-gay rights MP. George was magnificent before the US Senate, exposing the Iraq debacle. Sadly, he now sometimes seems to be exonerating a cruel, unjust regime in Tehran that is responsible for some of the worst state-sanctioned homophobia in the world. This regime is also responsible for the equally heinous persecution of trade unionists, womens’ rights campaigners, student leaders, human rights advocates, investigative journalists and activists who defend Iran’s subjugated minority nationalities, such as the Kurds, Arabs and Baluchs. Misguided, untruthful attacks on Iranian gay people, the queer rights movement and the pink community do not strengthen the anti-war movement and the struggle against US imperialism. On the contrary, they play straight into the hands of the tyrants in Tehran and their mirror opposites in Washington. They betray all Iranians who are yearning and striving for democracy, human rights, social justice and the self-rule of Iran’s oppressed minority nations.
Peter Tatchell is the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford East
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