Is the Iraqi Government Killing LGBT People?
A couple of days ago, The International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission put out a report claiming that LGBT Iraqis are being targeted by death squads.
According to the report, early last month notices were posted on the houses of suspected LGBT citizens in Baghdad and Basra, warning that they had four days to reformat their sexuality, or face the wrath of God. According to sources inside Iraq, these 40 people were then abducted, tortured and eventually murdered.
Accordng to some sources, the Iraqi Government was complicit in these killings.*
I spoke to Ali Hili, a gay Iraqi living in London who started the charity Iraqi LGBT.
VICE: Hi Ali, presumably you've seen the news reports about the LGBT death squads in Iraq?
Ali: Well, it wasn't really news for us, as this wave of violence has been going on since 2005. The mainstream media has been failing to pick up on the issue, or trying to ignore it.
So this is something that's fairly common?
It is, yes. We have reports of about 750 deaths so far.
Jesus. How do you find out about these deaths?
This is information given to us by reliable sources in Iraq. They've been verified by us with a death certificate or images or videos.
An upsetting picture purporting to show a victim of the Badr Organisation's crackdown.
Do you know who's committing these crimes?
Both the militias and the police; The Badr Corps [what the Badr Organisation were known as when they were still a militia], and Al Mahdi, a militia that controls much of Southern Iraq.
Is the Iraqi Government doing anything about it? What's the official legal status of LGBT people in Iraq?
Our government is doing so much to help and support the killers. Honestly, I think the main reason the killing is happening at the moment is because these people have basically been given a green light by the Ministry of Interiors to carry on with their genocide. They are doing nothing at all to bring criminals to justice or to stop this wave of unjustified violence. Yet the Ministry of Interiors says that it has nothing to do with these crimes.
Is there any kind of protection at all in Iraq for LGBT people?
The legal status of any sexual minority is a very grey area, we do not have any rights within the constitution, we do not have any sort of reference to our rights in general, period. That's the problem with the law at the moment in Iraq, our government won't come out and stand either against or for LGBT rights.
So there's no definitive stance?
No. And that's thanks to the US Government, because since the invasion they have removed every reference to LGBT punishment. But again, they didn't help to write any rights for sexual minorities into the constitution.
So, prior to the US invasion, what happened to people if they were caught being LGBT?
If two people were found in public in a sexual act, including penetration, the legal punishment was imprisonment for between three and seven years. But in all my life in Iraq, I never heard of any incident of people being punished for that. Maybe once or twice, but not really.
Is that because people weren't getting caught? Or because nobody cared?
Basically people would get away with it with little bribes to the police, or through connections to people they know. People can get away with so many things out there if they have money or influence.
According to the Gay Star News "emos" are also being targeted by the death squads. This is the picture Iraqna News used to illustrate what emos are.
What was it like being a gay male in Iraq?
To tell you the truth, prior to the invasion, it was really good. I wasn't in favour of the previous dictator, and I was so against him and his policies in general. Having said that, life in general for sexual minorities was quite relaxed. We used to have nightclubs and areas where people could come and go and do whatever they wanted. Nobody ever bothered them. There was a cruising area in central Baghdad that was protected by patrolling police cars. Which is something people can't believe when I tell them now.
When did the LGBT nightclubs close and the protection for the community disappear?
When the US and UK invaded Iraq. That ended the secular state of Iraq, and turned it into a very "dark ages", fanatical, religious period for Iraq. They brought us a Shi'ite government whose ideology is imported from Iran, they adopted their lifestyle strategy and cultural habits, and they tried to impose this on Iraq's society.
Are there groups of LGBT people that meet privately? Or is there no kind of gay society?
We meet up, we have networks of people, but it's a secretive network. Gay relationships are impossible at the moment. We advise everyone who is living or working there to keep their heads down. We advise people to modify their image and behaviour to be more in line with the rest of Iraqi society. We tell men not to wear makeup or tight clothes or have long hairstyles; to be more butch. It's sad, but it's something that could save their lives.
How did they find out who the members of your group were?
Because we used to do all of our activities openly. In some areas, we distributed over 12,000 brochures to promote ourselves. We have evidence of people who have been imprisoned and beaten just to reveal the names of and information about members of our group.
So the 40 people who have been killed that are being reported on at the minute, do you know much about this?
Well since the beginning of last month, there's been a wave of targeting individuals especially in poor, Shi'ite neighbourhoods in the southern cities. These are the areas we've found are the most dangerous. They've started to look for anyone with a reputation for being what they call "perverts", and then they investigate and interrogate and beat and torture to get as much information as possible to identify others, and then kill them.
Who is doing this? Is this militias or police?
Both. There are government corps who have been running the death squads to assassinate Sunnis and others for the last 60 years, and also the southern militia, which is the army wing of the Mahdi Army.
Jesus. Thank you very much for talking to me Ali, and good luck with everything.
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @JLCT
*The original version of this blog contained a document which implied that the Iraqi Government was complicit in the killings of LGBT people. I have since found out was a forgery, so I took it out.