Discretion is the better part of deportation

I can be as hardnosed as anyone when it comes to dealing with harsh political realities but even I draw the line when it comes to this:

Gay and lesbian asylum-seekers can be safely deported to Iran as long as they live their lives “discreetly”, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has claimed.

In a letter to a Liberal Democrat peer, seen by The Independent, Ms Smith said there was no “real risk” of gay men and lesbians being discovered by the Iranian authorities or “adverse action” being taken against those who were “discreet” about their behaviour.

You fucking what, Jacqui?

The Bouromand Foundation, which maintains an online memorial/database of human rights abuses in Iran, currently lists 145 individuals executed since 1979 after being charged with committing homosexual act along with, typically, a range of other offences although, as the Foundation notes, the use of false charges to justify the arrest and execution of dissidents is known to be sufficiently widespread to make it uncertain exactly how many of those listed may actually have been gay.

Nevertheless, to choose an illustrative case from the Foundation’s records, on 11 November 2005, Mr Moktar N, age 24, and his co-defendent Mr Ali A, age 25, were reported to have been executed at Shahid Bahonar Square in Gorgan, Iran. The Foundation’s database does note the specify the method of execution, although semi-official reports indicate that they were executed by means of public hanging, as noted here by Human Rights Watch:

On Sunday, November 13, the semi-official Tehran daily Kayhan reported that the Iranian government publicly hung two men, Mokhtar N. (24 years old) and Ali A. (25 years old), in the Shahid Bahonar Square of the northern town of Gorgan.

The government reportedly executed the two men for the crime of “lavat.” Iran’s shari`a-based penal code defines lavat as penetrative and non-penetrative sexual acts between men. Iranian law punishes all penetrative sexual acts between adult men with the death penalty. Non-penetrative sexual acts between men are punished with lashes until the fourth offense, when they are punished with death. Sexual acts between women, which are defined differently, are punished with lashes until the fourth offense, when they are also punished with death.

Officially, homosexuality does not exist in Iran, at least not according to its President, Mohammed Ahmedinejad who had this to say to an audience at Columbia University, last year:

“In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals. In Iran we don’t have this phenomenon. I don’t know who has told you we have it,”

Iran may not have any homosexuals, according to its current President, but it does have a population of around 20,000 transsexuals, courtesy of a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeni in the 1960’s in which he took the view that transsexuality is a condition to be ‘cured’ by means of gender-reassignment surgery, which may all sound unusally enlightened (for Iran) unless one runs across reports of male homosexuals being pressured into undertaking reassignment surgery as an alternative to execution.

To give a somewhat more transparent account of Smith’s comments than the Indy, she os only giving the official line, as laid down by the Home Office’s Country Information and Policy Unit (CIPU), cribbed from a 2001 UNHCR/ACCORD reports, as The Safra Project notes in its Country Information Report on Iran (pdf):

The UNHCR/ACCORD workshop report mentions that “individuals hiding their sexual orientation in public are most likely not at risk of persecution” .Moreover, the report suggests that it is “not difficult to encounter homosexuals in Iran in parks known to be meeting places”. In addition, the report states that “homosexuality is practised every day, and as long as this happens behind closed doors within your own four walls, and as long as people do not intend to proselytise ’transvestitism’ or homosexuality, they will most likely remain unharmed”.

However, this same report notes, the CIPU’s guidance omits the next section of the UNCHR report:

The CIPU report however does not include the additional information in the UNHCR/ACCORD workshop stating that in assessing asylum applications “one should consider on a case by case basis how intolerable it is for the asylum seeker not to be able to openly express his/her sexual orientation, not only because of the social context but also because it is considered to be against the law and punishable by death”.

All of which neatly sums up the prevailing attitude here, which is that the UK’s commitment to basic human rights ends at Dover, hence Smith’s additional comments which note that:

“With particular regard to Iran, current case law handed down by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal concludes that the evidence does not show a real risk of discovery of, or adverse action against gay and lesbian people who are discreet about their sexual orientation.”

In short, stay in the closet and you’ll be okay – well, enough to allow us to justify deporting you.

It’s difficult to know quite which element in all this is the more despicable; the “Sir Humprey’s” at the Home Office who seem to think that UNHCR’s recommendations are some sort of finger buffet from which they can pick and choose the elements that suit their desire to hit targets for deportations, or Smith’s unthinking parroting of the official line, which puts political expediency ahead of not only of Labour’s longstanding commitments to equality and human rights but ahead, even, of basic human compassion.

Clause 4 of Labour’s Constitution commits the party, amongst other things, to work for:

a just society, which judges its strength by the condition of the weak as much as the strong, provides security against fear, and justice at work; which nurtures families, promotes equality of opportunity, and delivers people from the tyranny of poverty, prejudice and the abuse of power.

That’s ‘delivers people from the tyranny of poverty, prejudice and the abuse of power’, Jacqui, not ‘delivers people into‘…

7 thoughts on “Discretion is the better part of deportation

  1. Sigh. There might be differences of opinion on our side about the threat Iran poses to the rest of the world, but surely not about the threat it poses to its own people. Well, that’s Government for you.

  2. I strongly suspect that lying behind this approach to Iran is a concern not to open up a simple and not easily disprovable way to assert ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ for any Iranian (certainly any male Iranian) seeking asylum. To admit that, in effect, every gay Iranian faces persecution and potential hanging would mean that every Iranian arriving in Britain could claim to be gay and there would be an almost impossible job to demonstrate that they were lying.

    Given that Iran is a country of 70 million people, I would have thought that there were considerably more than 145 gay men in it between 1979 and today. And in fact there exists a gay community in Iran, which is discreet and secretive, but exists nonetheless. See http://www.faryadmagazine.com/humanity_gay_rights.html for a brief description of actual life. So maybe Jacqui Smith is not entirely wrong.

  3. 25744.

    Interesting concept – so we redefine asylum to mean “We will protect you, as long as you are from an easily identifiable and small group. Otherwise, shut up and die quietly.”


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