Monday, July 13, 2009

The always astute Sonali Kolhatkar








Starting with war resistance. Last week in the US, a group of activists rallied for US war resister Kimberly Rivera, the first female resister to publicly seek asylum in Canada, at the Canadian Consulate in San Francisco. They gathered petitions and rallied outside at noon before presenting the petitions. Bill Carpenter (Indybay Media) offers a report with video. David Solnit, co-author with Aimee Allison of Army Of None, explains in the reception area that they have signatures for Kimberly "who is a US soldier who's facing deportation" from Canada. From the video, I believe that's Joanne Cherep that approaches them. (I could be wrong.)

David Solnit: Hi. My name's David Solnit, I work with a peace group called Courage to Resist and we have a bunch of folks with peace and human rights groups and we've gathered 6,000 signatures in support of Kimberly Rivera and so we would like to present them.

Except for Adrian Wilson, all present were US citizens. Wilson noted, "I'm a Canadian citizen and I'm here representing unconventional action in the Bay and I just wanted to request that PM [Stephen} Harper grant asylum to any and all Americans who are seeking refuge." Below is the letter 6,000 people signed on to.

Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney Please act immediately to stop the deportation of Kimberly Rivera, her husband and their three children by implementing the Canadian Parliament's resolutions to allow U.S. war resisters to stay in Canada. I am writing from the United States to ask that you abide by the House of Commons resolution -- reaffirmed February 12, 2009 -- to create a program to allow war objectors, including U.S. resisters, to apply for permanent resident status in Canada and to cease all deportation and removal proceedings against them. The recent flurry of deportation orders to war resisters, including Kimberly Rivera, and the forcing out of Robin Long, Cliff Cornell and Chris Teske, flaunted Canada's longstanding tradition of providing sanctuary to war objectors. Upon their forced return from Canada to the U.S. military, Robin and Cliff were sentenced to 15 and 12 months imprisonment respectively. Future resisters face even stiffer sentences. When more than 50,000 Americans refused to fight in Vietnam and emigrated to Canada, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau declared, "[They] have my complete sympathy, and indeed our political approach has been to give them access to Canada. Canada should be a refuge from militarism." On June 3, 2008, the House of Commons first voted to uphold this rich tradition by passing a historic resolution to allow war resisters to apply for permanent residence status in Canada and to halt the deportation of conscientious objectors. In addition to this parliamentary motion, according to a recent poll, nearly two of three Canadians also favor allowing U.S. war resisters to stay. Furthermore, many wonderful Canadians have opened their homes and hearts to U.S. war resisters. I ask that the Canadian government respect the democratic decision of Parliament, the demonstrated opinion of the Canadian citizenry, the view of the United Nations, and millions of Americans by immediately implementing the motion and cease deportation proceedings against Kimberly Rivera, Jeremy Hinzman, Patrick Hart, Dean Walcott and other current and future war resisters.

Yesterday BBC Radio 5 live broadcast the documentary Gay Life After Saddam. The documentary was supposed to air July 5th; however, the Wimbledon Men's Final ran long and the broadcast was rescheduled. This is a section of the opening:

Aasmah Mir: Since the invasion six years ago a steep rise in sectarian violence has claimed thousands of victims throughout the country but this could just be the tip of the iceberg because murders and attacks against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community are also on the increase but often go unreported. So what is happening to gay people inside Iraq? We've spoken to a range of people -- to those still inside the country and to those who fled to different parts of the world. The names of victims appearing in this program have been changed to protect their identities. Researchers from the US-based Human Rights Watch recently spent several months investigating the treatment of gay people in Iraq.

Scott Long: Today we're going to look at a new issue for us --

Aasmah Mir: The director of the organization LGBT program, Scott Long, outlined some of their findings at a briefing in New York.

Scott Long: I'm going to start by reading a testimony, or part of a testimony, from a man we spoke to who was 35-years-old. He actually developed a severe speech impediment from strain and grief. This is what he told us: "It was late one night in early April and they came to take my partner at his parent's house. Four armed men barged into the house. they were masked and wearing black. They asked for him by name. They insulted him and they took him in front of his parents. He was found in the neighborhood the day after. They had thrown his corpse in the garbage, his genitals were cut off and a piece of his throat was ripped out. Since then, I've been unable to speak properly. I feel as if my life is pointless now. I don't have friends other than those you see. For years, it's just been my boyfriend and myself in that little bubble by ourselves. I have no family now. I can't go back to them."
Aasmah Mir: Back in Britain, I went to see asylum seeker Ali Hilli who runs a group called Iraqi LGBT.

Aasmah Mir: Hello Ali.

Ali Hilli: Hello Ashram, how are you?

Aasmah Mir: I'm fine thank you. How are you?
Ali Hilli: Good thank you.

Aasmah Mir: Thanks very much for talking to us.

Aasmah Mir: While I was with him, Ali showed me some of the shocking video evidence of torture his group has been collecting. The images he showed me concerned attacks on transsexuals

Aasmah Mir: People were -- had their heads shaved. In this video we see one of the victims, his name is Ali also, he was a member of our group in Najaf, a trans person lived all his life as a transwoman. They took him away. They had his head shaved. And they distributed this video everywhere in Iraq and we still don't have an idea

Aasmah Mir: And that's what we can actually see right now, he's sitting on a stool, dressed in female clothes, long hair and someone is shaving his head.

Ali Hilli: Yes and uh it's so degrading.

Aasmah Mir: Yeah. How do you feel when you watch this kind of video because obviously you probably see a lot of it. This is the first time I've seen anything like this and, you know, obviously I'm quite shocked by it. But you, you must see this stuff all the time. Do you still feel shocked by it or are you almost becoming -- getting used to it in a kind of way?

Ali Hilli: No, I will never get used to atrocities against humanity. If I see the video for the first time, I'm quite shaken because the only thing that I-I afraid to catch is the moment of death. This is what I-I don't want to see in my life. I-I can - I can bear anything, I can accept anything but to kill a human? I just can't.

Aasmah Mir: We were granted exclusive access to one of the so-called safe houses set up and funded and managed by the London-based Iraqi LGBT group. On the outskirts of Baghdad, in an anonymous street behind heavily curtained windows we found Kassim a man in his late thirties. Kassim describes himself as a woman in a man's body. He's had a lifetime of trouble coming to terms with his gender identity. Kassim's been the victim of violence on several occasions most recently earlier this year

Kassim: One day, um, someone stopped his car by me and he said "Taxi" and I said, "Why? Why taxi?" Where are you going? And I said I was going to this certain place. He took me to an empty house and put a white blindfold on my eyes and then put a gun to my head and I said, "Just give me a time to pray to God before you kill me." And he said, "I won't give you time to pray." And he threatened me and I wasn't moving because I was afraid that he would kill me with the gun and then finally he said, "Okay, I'll let you go for this time but your day will come where you will die

Aasmah Mir: Amil's a young Iraqi man whose seeking asylum in London. A gay friend of his was killed by extremists in Iraq.

Amil: I used to have a friend, he was student with me and they find out he was gay and they kill him and they chop him like a -- like a lamb or I couldn't or I can't - I can't hardly say because it was really awful. They kill him and they chop it him and they put him in front of the institute, the one I was studying, to show and to scare the people to not be gay or homosexual.

Aasmah Mir: Most shocking of the recent reports to emerge from Iraq is a form of torture used on gay men involving glue. Hossein Alizadeh is the Middle East and North Africa researcher for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Hossein Alizadeh: The most horrendous form of torture that I have heard and seen is what happened during March and April in Iraq. Members of the Iraqi Shi'ite militia al-Mahdi group, they went around posted lists, names of the people who were supposed to be gay and when they arrest them they basically use glue to shut down their digestive system -- the anus. Others who managed to escape go to the hospitals and the hospitals refuse treatment to those people because, again, they look gay or they're perceived to be gay. So we had numerous cases -- I can tell you about fifty or sixty cases I've heard -- that have been tortured in that way.

Aasmah Mir: Rasha Moumneh is the Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch

Rasha Moumneh: You know some of the gay men have actually talked about internet entrapment, a lot of men would be kidnapped, blackmailed for money. We've talked to people whose partners have been killed in the most brutal of ways.

Aasmah Mir: And it appears that it is not just people who are gay, bi or transsexual who find themselves the target of violence

Ali Hilli: Anyone who's gay, who looks like gay, or have an effeminate behavior, certain Western dress, we've heard of so many examples of people who were, they were even married with children

Aasmah Mir: There seems to have been an increase in violence in recent months but according to the London-based Iraqi LGBT the killings and torture go back a long way. They claim more than 600 people have been executed since 2003.

Ali Hilli: There are so many other areas like villages, little towns, also big cities, we can't have people reach to or investigate about incidents. Also sometimes security situation is quite very complicated, people can't travel often to check or find out what's happening in certain areas. So I believe the number is far more higher than 600.

Aasmah Mir: Gay people are seeking sanctuary from the violence in Iraq in all parts of the world. At a secret location by the banks of the Seine in Paris we met Omar a twenty year old gay man who just weeks earlier had been facing death in Iraq. A small, slightly built young man, who looks younger than his age, told us his story. At times clearly traumatized.

Omar: I was arrested and I was in retention and there I found five other gay persons. We suffered torture. There was the electrical way -- to use electricity to torture us. And there's a position where my head is down through my legs -- and my head is down, it's something horrible. While you have another mean of torture using the belts -- you cannot imagine -- a normal person cannot imagine such torture.

Aasmah Mir: I'm Aasmah Mir and you're listening to Gay Life After Saddam on BBC Radio 5 live. So what was life like for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people before the fall of Saddam Hussein

Scott Long: There was no possibility of leading a particularly public gay life. There are reports from Amnesty International that 2002 as Saddam was attempting to sort of shore up his Islamist credentials, before the invasion, he passed decrees mandating the death penalty for prostitution and for homosexual conduct. We haven't actually seen those decrees and we can't confirm what they contain.

Aasmah Mir: This Iraqi student who wishes to remain anonymous now lives in New York

Anonymous: I had a pretty, you know, reasonable gay lifestyle under the table -- in terms of, you know, circle of friends, gatherings, get-togethers, we'd get together at homes. Before the war, there were a couple of bars, a couple of clubs that on weekends are pretty much publicly gay and everybody knew about it and we used to go and hang out there and that's fine as long as we don't take that out in the streets.

Aasmah Mir: Ali Hilli was a young gay men in Iraq during the 1990s. He has fond memories of the underground gay scene that flourished without much interference in Saddam's Baghdad.

Ali Hilli: Well we had - we had lots of theater actually plays that we were -- people always have to refer to the gay character which is always taken as a sense of humor in shows. We used to go to -- to see lots of theaters and plays. I don't know, for some reason there is always a gay character in these plays and I quite like it because I know some of the actors who are really gay themselves and we enjoy it because they really make the most of it. They camp it up. And there were lots of gay famous singers.

Aasmah Mir: Kassim remembers a better life under Saddam .

Kassim: Life was good, everything was okay. There were clubs, cafeterias and we could choose where we sat. We could choose any place to sit and meet other gays and frankly compared to the current situation the times under Saddam were much better.

Aasmah Mir: Haider is an Iraqi seeking asylum in England. He's been living in Huntersfield. He left Iraq shortly after the US invasion six years ago.

Haider: If you respect yourself and live and you don't cause any problems nobody is going to kill you we didn't hear of anybody being killed because of his sexuality in Saddam's regime. Now after that, everything got worse, everything got fluctuated. I fled from Iraq in 2003 because of one of the worst experiences I've had in my life. I was kidnapped for 9 days, they took me in a small car and they send me about to a place about half an hour. I was. I was eye-folded, they call it. [. . .] on the border of Baghdad. One of the officers there, he raped me. And then he said "if you're going to tell anyone from the rest of the gang, I will kill you directly." I was scared. Just a one meal a day which is not enough. They were always telling us that they were going to kill you.

If you missed it you have six days to listen online and note that first five minutes of the podcast are headlines and the program starts around 5:42 into the podcast. The next section is where ignorance is really flaunted as 'average' Iraqi men 'explain' 'reality.' Such as it's wrong to have sex with a guy who is a man -- as opposed to a guy who is a woman? You'll hear non-stop ignorance and hatred in that section. After that the issue of responsibility for the violence is raised and then is there a role for the US, UK, etc. It's a powerful program and those who are able to stream it should.

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paulocanning said...

Where did you get the transcript of Gay Life after Saddam? Very useful!

People have more than 4 days now as I have embedded a copy here

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