Post submitted by Karim, HRC Global Engagement Intern
Reports have surfaced alleging that Islamist elements within the Syrian opposition are targeting LGBT individuals. According to a report in Vice magazine, the advent of the Al-Qaeda organization, Jabhat al-Nusra, in January 2012, has ushered in a new regime of terror for LGBT Syrians.
Shadi- a 27-year-old from Dier Ezzor (known for being one of the safest cities in Syria), spoke with Vice magazine about his personal experience as a witness to anti-LGBT violence in the region.
He told Vice, “It started when one of my gay friends disappeared. When he reappeared two weeks later it was obvious that he’d been at a Nusra training camp, and he started blackmailing all of his gay friends, using the photos and videos that he had of us. He told us that he was simply able to kill us by presenting us to Nusra with the proof he has that we’re gay.”
According Shadi, his friends were shot and killed after refusing to pay the blackmailer.
Shadi’s story about his friend is not an uncommon fate, according to Mahmoud Hassino, a 37-year-old openly gay journalist. In an interview with Gay City News, Hassino, who now lives in Turkey, reflected on what he refers to as Syria’s “crackdown on gays.”
“Homosexuals are the easiest target, which all Syrians would agree with, the regime started a homophobic campaign to say that the revolution is immoral because people who own the news channels, which are supporting it, are homosexuals,” Shadi said. “They went further by saying that everyone who is active in the revolution is gay — i.e., ‘sinners, immoral, and want to damage the fabric and the structure of the conservative Syrian community.’”
Syria’s culture of homophobia has roots stemming further back than the current revolution. Though Syria is not a theocracy like Saudi Arabia, society is dictated by Islamic Sharia law, which strictly condemns homosexuality. Many Syrians view homosexuality as immoral and perverse behavior. In Syria, homosexual conduct can be punishable with a minimum of at least three years of imprisonment. Furthermore, laws forbid the organization of any type of LGBT movement.
Because of the deeply entrenched culture of homophobia in the region, LGBT individuals do not live open, authentic lives. In addition, because of the deputy minister of religious endowments’ denouncement of those infected of HIV/AIDS as guilty of engaging in homosexual behavior, many HIV-positive Syrians do not seek medical assistance out of fear of being outed, stigmatized, and persecuted for engaging in homosexual conduct.