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Sep 25, 2007 News: Activists Condemn Denial of Iranian Gays by President Ahmadinejad
By Sven Rabatzky

(USA) - During a controversial talk at Columbia University’s World Leaders Forum on Monday, Iranian President Dr. Mahmood Ahmadinejad denied the existence of homosexuality in Iran: “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. … We don’t have that in our country,” he claimed answering a question about the rights of Gay people in Iran. The reactions to this claim were a mixture of disbelief, anger and warnings not to join into militarist hystery.

Paula Ettelbrick, Executive Director at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) expressed dismay at Ahmadinejad’s response. “It is extremely unfortunate that the President of Iran, who used a prestigious academic forum to speak the “truth” about his country, nevertheless spoke so disingenuously about the human rights situation in Iran,” said Ettelbrick.

“The Iranian President’s stark denial of our reality reflects his government’s ongoing refusal to recognize the basic human rights of LGBT people. IGLHRC and other human rights organizations have documented widespread and systemic violations of the rights of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Iran.”

In preparation for the forum, IGLHRC sent questions to the moderator, hoping that he would raise the issue of LGBT rights in Iran. IGLHRC expressed its gratitude to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger and to the moderator, Professor Coatsworth, for addressing these issues. This was the first time that a sitting Iranian president had been confronted with a question about the mistreatment of the Gay community in a public forum.

Ettelbrick continued: “While some of our closest allies have protested Columbia’s decision to provide President Ahmadinejad with a public forum, it was precisely because such a forum was created that he was challenged and held accountable for his policies.” Despite President Ahmadinejad’s denial of the existence of Gay people in Iran, IGLHRC said in its statement that it was very important to challenge him on this issue. The IGLHRC is of the opinion that this underscores the value of freedom of speech for holding governments accountable for their actions.

The question raised by the moderator stressed that the international community recognizes the plight of thousands of Iranian Gays and Lesbians, who are either forced into exile or face daily harassment through state-sanctioned persecution. IGLHRC urged President Ahmadinejad to defend the rights of all Iran’s citizens, regardless of their ethnicity, political opinion, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. The organization expressed hopes that the Iranian President uses this opportunity to reflect upon the “legitimate concerns of the international community about his government’s domestic and international policies.”

Bob Schwartz of the Gay Liberation Network pointed out the dangers of a military strike against Iran:

“There will be no disagreement from me that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a dangerous man, an enemy of the rights of women and gays. Yet, we ought not fall into several traps that may await the incautious ... any US and/or Israeli attack on Iran would only serve to strengthen the regime and could kill lots of women and Gays along with other Iranians.”

Iran maintains the death penalty for same-sex love and other “amoral behaviour”. In this summer, many people were executed for political opposition or relationships outside the traditional marriage. Gay refugees are routinously deported to Iran, despite the recommendations of UNHCR to abstain from such practices.

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