Sunday, July 19, 2015

remembering mahmoud asgari and ayaz marhoni

ten years ago today, two kids -- who were both under the age of 18 when they were arrested -- were executed in iran. their names were mahmoud asgari and ayaz marhoni. according to amnesty international, an "18-year-old, identified only as A. M. and a minor, Mahmoud A, were publicly hanged in the north-eastern city of Mashhad. According to reports, they were convicted of sexual assault on a 13-year-old boy and had been detained 14 months ago. Prior to their execution, the two were also given 228 lashes each for drinking, disturbing the peace and theft."

to go back to the age of the these kids, amnesty said that "Amnesty International believes that Mahmoud Asgari was 15 or 16 and Ayaz Marhoni was 16 or 17 at the time of the crime."

in other words, if you go by that understanding of the case, 15 and 16 year olds were later executed for sexually assaulting 13 year old. in iran, the age of consent for men at that time was 18. so, none of them could have consented to sexual activity, legally speaking, not that you can consent to homosexuality anyway. on top of that, sexual relationship between two men is illegal and per ja'fari (shia) madhab (school of thought) carries the death penalty.

however, ja'fari madhab prohibits the execution of minors, which according to ja'far madhab is age 15 (the age in which you're considered adult and which you can marry). so, unless a 13 year old does something so heinous (like murder), you can't kill him under shia sharia law. as such, when three teenage boys are caught having sex intoxicated in an alley... what do you do? you kill the ones you can, even if you have to let some fishes go in the process. but the ones you want to kill, now you can kill them without any issues because they committed a heinous (rape) crime... as a boy cannot consent under 15 to have sex with someone over the age 15.

so, there are no issues with that case if you're a shia muslim. unless, you're a shia muslim who want to live under the united nations convention on the rights of the child that you country had signed and which, in that case, your country would be in violation of.

basically, iran was screwed on all sides on this case. its 'clean' case was not so clean because neither the human rights defenders nor the gays were agreeing with their version (the gays saying the kids were gay, the human rights defenders focusing on child execution).

as a queer muslim, this case was a learning experience for me, and you could say that it had totally changed the trajectory of my life. when the story came out, i was put in a really bad situation: i knew enough about the case that i could help future victims; i also knew for a fact that there were people who would be highly in danger if i did so.

at the time, i was in the midst of negotiations with a big publisher. they were going to publish my book "illegal citizens" (which was published later in 2008). i had gotten a contract just a few weeks earlier that was dated for august 25th. but the publisher changed its mind. in order for that publisher to publish my book, i needed to take out one story.

the story in question told the life of one gay iranian in an upper class system, a story meant to showcase the diversity we live under as queer muslims as well as the hypocrisy of countries like iran and saudi arabia-- countries in which there are an elite group of people who are exempt from what the rest of people deal with. "the tehranian" in the book is about a young gay man who happens to be the son of a powerful ayatollah. his life, unlike the lives of many gays in that country who refuse to live other lives, is not in danger. he lives a privileged life, not very different of the many meth-addict gays you find on gay apps and clubs in new york city or paris. and even though his "lifestyle" is one i couldn't live, i knew his story was important in my book.

so, suddenly, my life as a queer muslim was in hot debate between publishers who wanted to cast iran as a bad country that only executes gays (iran executed many minors who were neither gay nor accused of gay rape), reckless journalists who only cared about their ideas of gay rights in the west, and naive human rights defenders who fetishize us as part of their liberal idea of inclusion.

but i wasn't having any of it.

in the end, however, those of us interested in this story in a real way got our way. all of the e.u. countries who used to send gays back to iran stopped, and officially took the position that iran was not a safe country to return gays who chose to go elsewhere. after nearly a decade of pressure, from both local and international people, iran officially changed its policies in 2012 by having a new law which says the execution of people under 18 is not allowed. and between 2005 and 2015, gay iranians enjoyed a much better experience, with the cases handled better... and law enforcement looking the other way in most cases in large cities. 

in other words, these two young men changed their country in ways they never imagined they would.