BAGHDAD – “They smashed his head with concrete blocks. His name was Saïf Asmar, he was one of my best friends. Tomorrow it could be my turn...”
Holding a photo of Saïf, hardly recognizable after his brutal assassination, Roby* attempts to control both his fear and his anger. Death squads have been targeting gays and youngsters who follow punk or ‘emo’ fashion since the start of the year. However, Roby doesn’t hesitate to point out the upsurge in the number of attacks since Feb. 6 2012, which, according to official reports, has produced 80 further victims. “That day they killed Ahmad Arusa in Sadr City and four others in Geyara – two working class Shi’ite areas to the east of Bagdad.”
The majority of the young people killed had their names displayed in the street a longside death threats. A leaflet showing the names of 33 young people threatened with death was found in the Sadr City district. It read: “If you do not abandon your licentious attitude within four days, God’s punishment will come down upon you at the hands of mujahidin saints, Islamist fighters.” The threat was encircled with two images of guns. In Roby’s opinion, this manhunt is being led by radical Shi’ite militias from the Mahdi Army – a former group of insurgents under the leadership of the imam Moqtada al-Sadr.
In the militia office in Sadr City, local politician and religious leader Brahim Jawary denies all involvement in this series of killings and “calls for in-depth inquiry into all crimes, including crimes against morality and against the laws of God.” Confronted by this wave of violence, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani warned of “extremist groups who establish themselves as enforcers of moral and religious laws and to lash out people on the basis of their style or hairstyle.”
But in another statement dating from Feb. 13, he did not hesitate to compare the 'emo' movement to “Satanism.” Referring to it as a “threatening phenomenon,” he added that he had “official approval to eliminate them as soon as possible.”
In the case of Madi*, it was not a letter or leaflet that forced her to run away from her family, but an email. “They threatened to tell my family I am a lesbian if I didn’t leave the country immediately,” recalls Madi, 26, from a secret location in Bagdad. And her fears are far from groundless. “Lots of lesbians have died in Iraq at the hands of their older brothers: honor crimes and domestic cases which the government will never investigate.”
Dismembered or burnt alive
According to the Iraqi LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) organization, based in London, over 720 homosexuals have been killed by extremist militias in the last six years. Madi admits that she has lost many close friends. “The Moqtada al-Sadr militia and the Iraqi security forces are the most aggressive, especially since a fatwa was published four years ago saying that homosexuals should be executed in the worst way possible.” According to Madi, many have been dismembered or burnt alive. She says that doctors are aware of this as they see the state in which the bodies arrive; some doctors who wished to remain anonymous confirmed these allegations.
Inside the Iraqi parliament, the anger is also tangible. “Since 2003 we have taken a step backwards regarding human rights issues,” explains Ashwaq Jaf, a senator for the Kurdish Alliance. “The heart of the problem,” she added, “is that we have two penal codes: the Iraqi Constitution, but also sharia law. Contradictions between the two often lead to ambiguous and dangerous legal vacuums.”
For Roby, the young man on the run, his last hope is pinned on the West. If Western governments don’t lean on Bagdad to clamp down on these crimes, they will remain unpunished by the ‘militia-run’ government.
* Not their real names.
Read more from Le Temps in French.
Photo - Gays without Borders