Wednesday, May 12, 2021

A Tragedy in Iran

Alireza Fazeli-Monfared

I recently read a story about a 20-year-old gay man who was reportedly brutally murdered by members of his own family in a so-called “honor killing” in Iran last week. Alireza Fazeli-Monfared had plans to flee the country to Turkey to meet his refugee boyfriend when his half-brother and cousins beheaded him. The sadness of the story is compounded by how close he was to getting out of Iran and to safety and how his family found out he was gay. Fazeli-Monfared had just received an exemption from serving in the military because of “sexual depravities.” The document outed him as gay, and his family discovered the exemption papers, which informed them of his sexual orientation.  

Iran requires all male citizens above the age of 18 to enlist in military service excepts gay men and transgender women, who are officially cited as having “mental disorders” and “sexual depravities.” Under Islamic law in Iran, same-sex relations are illegal and can carry a punishment of jail, lashing, and in some cases, execution. Because of Iran’s homophobic laws, anti-gay propaganda, and light sentences for honor killings, Iran is responsible for facilitating the murder of countless members of the LGBTQ community in Iran.


According to the Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, Fazeli-Monfared was on the phone with his mother when his half-brother came to him and on the pretext that their father wanted to see him. The half-brother then got Fazeli-Monfared into the car and drove him outside the city. These events happened on the Tuesday night of May 4, and no one heard anything about Fazeli-Monfared whereabouts until the half-brother called Fazeli-Monfared’s mother and told her: ‘We have finished him off.’ The mother was told where to find the beheaded body of her son. She has since been hospitalized with shock. Fazeli-Monfared’s body was found under a tree outside of the city of Ahwaz. The BBC reported it had received audio recordings of Fazeli-Monfared saying he was in danger from family members and planning to flee Iran. According to reports, Fazeli-Monfared had plans to leave Iran on May 8 to join his boyfriend, Aghil Abyat, who is a refugee and was waiting for him in Turkey.


The three men accused of Fazeli-Monfared’s murder have reportedly been arrested, though it is unlikely they will face much punishment if any at all. LGBTQ people are persecuted in many Islamic countries, often by law, due to religious sanctions against same-sex relationships. Earlier this year, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran expressed concern over reports that the country has subjected LGBTQ children to “torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”


This story made me so sad for Alireza Fazeli-Monfared and his boyfriend, Aghil Abyat. The human rights violations in Iran are so abominable for sexual minorities, including women and the LGBTQ community. Several years ago, I was researching a Canadian graduate of the university where I work to prepare for an oral history interview, which sadly never happened. She’s a celebrity and the wife of a high-ranking politician in Canada, so it came down to working with her publicity and public relations people. We were never able to work out the time for an interview. I did get to meet her, but I did not get to interview her. She was whisked away to the airport just minutes after I began giving her a tour of the museum. I bring her up because she was born in Iran and her family fled to Canada when she was young.


She became interested in the case of a teenage girl in Iran with whom she shared a name. The Iranian government sentenced the young girl to hang for stabbing one of three men who tried to rape her and her niece in Karaj in March 2005. Eventually, with pressure from the international community, now a young woman, she was granted a new trial by the head of the Judiciary in June 2006. In January 2007, the young woman was exonerated of murder charges and was released after $43,000 had been raised for her bail. The young Iranian girl on death row was fortunate to have an international advocate to fight for her release, but so many women and members of the LGBTQ community have no one to fight for them. 


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