Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts

March 12, 2019

Syrian Army Uses Sexual Violence To Humiliate and Embarras Guy Prisoners to Keep Them Quiet

A Syrian man shows marks of torture on his back after he was released by regime forces in 2012. (James Lawler Duggan/AFP/Getty Images)
 Syrian government forces are using widespread sexual violence to humiliate and silence male prisoners, psychologists and a monitoring group said Monday, offering a rare window into a form of abuse rarely discussed by its survivors. 
Eight years after the start of Syria’s uprising, more than 100,000 detainees remain unaccounted for, most of them in Syrian government custody. According to the United Nations and human rights groups, torture and abuse are systematic, and thousands, if not tens of thousands, of those detainees are probably dead.
But while many forms of abuse are well documented, the men who emerge from Syrian government cells — often after years of neglect in near-total darkness — rarely discuss the levels of sexual violence they encountered, and little psychological help is available for survivors. 
According to a report released Monday by Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights, a Syrian rights group, security forces have used rape and enforced sterilization, as well as the tying, burning and mutilation of men’s genitals, to force confessions and submission. 
The abuse has taken place at checkpoints, on journeys to prison and inside interrogation rooms, the group said. Several men said their jailers inserted a water hose into their anus and turned on the tap, causing the prisoners’ bodies to swell up. 
There are no accurate statistics for the scale of the sexual abuse inside Syrian custody, in part because survivors are scattered around the world. Former detainees also are often hesitant to report such abuse, particularly when they come from conservative communities in which discussion of sexual violence is taboo.  
But of 138 men interviewed by the LDHR, more than 40 percent reported some form of sexual assault. That figure rose to almost 90 percent when describing instances of forced nudity ordered by their prison guards.
“What is revealed is extensive, pervasive and brutal sexual violence against Syrian political prisoners across time, government security agencies and their detention centers,” the group said. The testimonies were accompanied by medical evaluations. Where possible, experts in treating sexual violence then cross-checked the details from the survivors’ accounts and the evaluations.
In interviews with The Washington Post, dozens of men formerly held in government prisons, particularly in Damascus, have described how they were ordered to strip before being severely beaten, or how they spent days lying naked alongside other prisoners in packed and squalid cells. Others reported extreme forms of sexual abuse involving mechanical tools or sharp objects.  “These were moments when you didn’t recognize yourself as a human,” said one man, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear for his family’s security in a government-held area. “As I lay there, it wasn’t that I wanted to die. It was that I wished I’d never existed.”
These accounts by survivors describe historical cases of abuse, but there are few indications that the practice has stopped. More than 2,000 Syrians have been detained since November, most of them by government-linked forces, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
It remains unclear how many have been sent to detention facilities, rather than being forcibly conscripted. But recently released detainees say the pace and scale of abuse inside government prisons and security branches remain unchanged.
The legacy of sexual abuse can be devastating, and trauma can last years after release. More than three-quarters of the men interviewed described depression, flashbacks and nightmares since they left prison.  
Psychologists in Gaziantep, a city in southern Turkey and a hub for Syrians fleeing the war, have recorded cases of suicide that they believe to be linked to sexual abuse experienced in Syrian government custody.
“Coming from conservative societies, these men often leave feeling destroyed and humiliated as men,” said Jalal Nofel, a Syrian psychiatrist who works with former detainees in Gaziantep. “The patients we see often believe that they cannot recover from that.”
He told The Post, “A man from Douma did not speak to his family for three days upon his return, and then he killed himself. We only learned his full story from cellmates after his death.”
There is scant help available for rehabilitation of former detainees, as needs exceed the capacity of international and local humanitarian groups working in Syria and in countries hosting the war’s refugees. And men are far less likely than women to seek help. 
Of sexual violence survivors from 61 countries who sought help between 2004 and 2014, only 5 percent were men, according to Doctors Without Borders. 
In their interviews with the LDHR, survivors said they had often chosen isolation, in some cases forgetting details about their family lives while being unable to shake flashbacks from their time in jail. One man likened himself to a small bird. Another man, identified only as Abdullah in the report, told a researcher that he lived in constant fear.
“The soul has died, doctor,” he said.    
Zakaria Zakaria in Istanbul contributed to this report.

July 26, 2017

'These Queers Kill Fascists' .....Gays Fighting Isis in Syria

These Faggots Kill Fascists! We shoot back! The Black & Pink and Rainbow flag fly in Raqqa. smashing the Caliphate.

A group of LGBT people fighting against Isis in Syria has formed their own military unit as the battle to eradicate the Islamist organization continues. 
Isis has brutally persecuted LGBT people for several years and considers being gay to be a crime punishable by death.
Now a number of international volunteers fighting alongside Kurdish forces in northern Syria have formed an LGBT military unit and named it “The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army” (TQILA) – pronounced “Tequila”.
The group was set up under the umbrella of the International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF), an anarchist group taking part in the fight against Isis.
TQILA's formation was announced in a statement posted on its Twitter page.
“We, the International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF) formally announce the formation of The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army (TQILA), a subgroup of the IRPGF comprised of LGBT*QI+ comrades as well as others who seek to smash the gender binary and advance the women’s revolution as well as the broader gender and sexual revolution,” it said.
“TQILA’s members have watched in horror as fascists and extremist forces around the world have attacked the Queer community and murdered countless of our community members citing that they are ‘ill’, ‘sick’, and ‘unnatural’.
“The images of gay men being thrown off roofs and stoned to death by Daesh [Isis] was something we could not idly watch.”
The group said “hatred for Queer, Trans* and other non-binary peoples” is not limited to Isis but is also present among “Christian conservatives in the global northwest”.
The statement ends: “Queer liberation! Death to rainbow capitalism! Shoot back! These faggots kill fascists!”
Further details about the unit remain scarce and a spokesman for the group told Newsweek they would not be revealed for security reasons. Pictures posted on social media showed masked soldiers in military uniforms holding guns and standing in front of a banner reading: “These Faggots Kill Fascists, TGILA-IRPGF”.
In the background, other soldiers hold the rainbow flag and a banner showing the group’s logo – an AK47 on a pink background.
Isis has frequently murdered people in Iraq and Syria who it deems to be LGBT, including releasing videos showing gay people being pushed off buildings and stoned to death. 
Kurdish forces are unusual in their recognition of gender equality. They include all-female units and generally treat men and women as equals.
Isis has suffered several major defeats in recent months. It has been driven out of the city of Mosul in northern Iraq – its last remaining stronghold in the country. At the same time, its main base in Syria – the city of Raqqa – is under siege by a Western-backed coalition of forces that includes Kurdish units.

June 13, 2017

"Finding Mr. Gay Syria" This Film Highlights LGBT Abuses

From arrests to honor killings to cold-blooded murders, when Mahmoud Hassino saw the rights of Syria's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community trampled in the brutal civil war, he wanted to find a way to tell the world. 
In the midst of war, Hassino set out to find Syria's "Mr. Gay" to send to an international beauty pageant. 
Hassino, a Syrian journalist, and gay rights campaigner saw LGBTQ people targeted by all sides in Syria's six-year-old conflict. And women disproportionately bore the brunt of the violence. 
A scene from the new documentary "Mr. Gay Syria" Les Films D'Antoine/Coin Film/Toprak Film
"With the war, gender-based violence reached a peak," said Hassino, 42. "Women suffered and the LGBT community as well. Any kind of gender expression is not possible during any war." 
His quest to find "Mr. Gay Syria" is now the subject of a documentary directed by Ayse Toprak, a Turkish journalist for whom Hassino worked as a fixer. 
The documentary, to be screened at the Sheffield documentary festival in Britain on Tuesday, depicts the lives of gay and bisexual Syrians in Istanbul as they compete for a place in the Mr. Gay World competition. 
When anti-government protests started in cities across Syria in 2011, Hassino hoped one of the outcomes would be more freedom for LGBTQ people. 
The uprising sparked hopes of more rights for minorities in a country where homosexuality is illegal, and people started coming out about their sexual orientation, talking about gay rights and women's rights, Hassino said. 
During the first few months of the civil war that ensued, it seemed as though Hassino's hopes had come true. 
"It had become easier for LGBT people because people weren't targeted systematically," Hassino told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Berlin, where he now lives. 
But soon, they became a target for all groups involved in the conflict. In the most notorious example, rights groups have accused Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq of killing dozens of gay men by throwing them from buildings or stoning them. 
Gay men in Syria can face arrests, "honor killings" at the hands of family members, or murder by Islamic State and other militant groups. 
Hassino, who had worked in Syria with Iraqi sexual and gender minorities, decided to shed light on the abuses by sending a Syrian to the Mr. Gay World beauty pageant in Malta last year. 
"I had the idea of trying to create a media buzz around the situation which also highlights the Syrian LGBT refugee problem," Hassino said. 
Even though the competition's winner, Husein, did not make it to the event because of visa restrictions, Hassino himself traveled to Malta to raise awareness of the persecution gay Syrians face. 
He says the film will document their experiences for future generations. 
"As a journalist, I think documentaries are more important than beauty pageants," he said. 
Hassino now works with LGBTQ refugees in Germany -- many of whom were targeted and beaten up in refugee camps. His hopes for a swift change in attitudes to LGBTQ people have ebbed away. 
"Maybe after the war ends we'll talk about rights. But not now."

April 6, 2017

Syrian Aircraft Dropped Chemical Weapons Down to Civilians

Syrian fixed-wing aircraft dropped chemical weapons on civilians in Idlib earlier this week in a deadly attack which activists said killed at least 100 people — including 25 children — and injured at least 400 others, two U.S. military officials told NBC News. 
The U.S. military saw the aircraft on a radar and watched them drop the bombs, the officials said. The radar soon picked up the flashes and booms in the rebel-held area of Syria.  
Soon after, civilians on the ground began responding in a way that is consistent with exposure to a nerve agent documented in horrific images of people writhing in pain, coughing and young children gasping for air. 
One official said they believe there was a combination of two agents and while they do not believe one was chlorine, he would not say what they were. 
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was expected to discuss the situation in Syria on Thursday.
This is a developing story

February 7, 2017

Syria is Hung Thousands at Saydnaya Prison

Undated aerial photograph of Saydnaya prison, north of Damascus, Syria

A new report by the human rights group alleges that mass hangings took place every week at Saydnaya prison between September 2011 and December 2015.
Amnesty says the alleged executions were authorised at the highest levels of the Syrian government.
The government has previously denied killing or mistreating detainees.
However, UN human rights experts said a year ago that witness accounts and documentary evidence strongly suggested that tens of thousands of people were being detained and that "deaths on a massive scale" were occurring in custody. 
Amnesty interviewed 84 people, including former guards, detainees and prison officials for its report.
It alleges that every week, and often twice a week, groups of between 20 and 50 people were executed in total secrecy at the facility, just north of Damascus.  Before their execution, detainees were brought before a "military field court" in the capital's Qaboun district for "trials" lasting between one and three minutes, the report says.
A former military court judge quoted by Amnesty said detainees would be asked if they had committed crimes alleged to have taken place. "Whether the answer is 'yes' or 'no', he will be convicted... This court has no relation with the rule of law," he said.
According to the report, detainees were told on the day of the hangings that they would be transferred to a civilian prison then taken to a basement cell and beaten over the course of two or three hours.

Map of Syria showing location of Saydnaya prison

Then in the middle of the night they were blindfolded and moved to another part of the prison, where they were taken into a room in the basement and told they had been sentenced to death just minutes before nooses were placed around their necks, the report adds.
The bodies of those killed were allegedly then loaded onto lorries, and transferred to Tishreen military hospital in Damascus for registration and burial in mass graves located on military land.
On the basis of evidence of the testimony of its witnesses, Amnesty estimates that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were executed at Saydnaya over five years.

Witness accounts

A former judge who saw the hangings:
"They kept them [hanging] there for 10 to 15 minutes. Some didn't die because they are light. For the young ones, their weight wouldn't kill them. The officers' assistants would pull them down and break their necks." 
'Hamid', a former military officer who was detained at Saydnaya:
"If you put your ears on the floor, you could hear the sound of a kind of gurgling. This would last around 10 minutes… We were sleeping on top of the sound of people choking to death. This was normal for me then."
Former detainee 'Sameer' describes alleged abuse:
"The beating was so intense. It was as if you had a nail, and you were trying again and again to beat it into a rock. It was impossible, but they just kept going. I was wishing they would just cut off my legs instead of beating them any more."
Source: Amnesty International

Although it does not have evidence of executions taking place since December 2015, the group says it has no reason to believe they have stopped and that thousands more were likely to have died.
Amnesty says these practices amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
It also notes that death sentences have to be approved by the grand mufti and by either the defence minister or the army's chief of staff, who are deputised to act on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad. 
The human rights group says it contacted the Syrian authorities about the allegations in early January but has received no response.
Last August, Amnesty reported that an estimated 17,723 people had died in custody as a result of torture and the deprivation of food, water and medical care between March 2011 - when the uprising against President Assad began - and December 2015. That figure did not include those allegedly hanged at Saydnaya.


February 6, 2017

Putin’s Ally Syria is Hanging Dissenters in Groups of 50

 King of Syria who together with Putin has killed more men, women and children than Isis or anyone else

They don't know they are to be hanged, not until the noose is placed around their necks. As they are moved in groups of up to 50 people, they are told they are being transferred to another prison. Some in the “execution room” may still harbor hopes they are to be released and freed from weeks of vicious beatings, sexual violence, starvation and humiliation. 
According to Amnesty International, week in, week out, a grotesque execution routine has been under way in the jail 30 kilometers from the capital Damascus, and has been since the earliest days of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The rights organization published a report Tuesday containing harrowing details on extrajudicial killings at Syria's Saydnaya prison.
'Human Slaughterhouse'
Amnesty calculates that from September 2011 to December 2015, between 5,000 and 13,000 people were executed at Saydnaya. The number may well be higher, warn the researchers of the report, “Human Slaughterhouse: Mass Hangings and Extermination at Saydnaya Prison.” The rights organization says it has no reason to believe the executions have ceased.
The 48-page report, which took a year to complete and is based on first-hand interviews with 84 witnesses, including former Saydnaya guards and officials, detainees, judges and lawyers, as well as national and international experts on detention in Syria, is the second study Amnesty has published about the prison.
In August 2016, Amnesty, in collaboration with Goldsmiths, University of London, pieced together an interactive digital model of the prison, part of a wider study on the extrajudicial killings by the Syrian government.
“Saydnaya is the end of life, the end of humanity," a guard told Amnesty's researchers.
No response from Syria
The rights organization asked the Syrian government to respond to allegations contained in the report, but received no response. VOA also emailed the Syrian Foreign Ministry, but to no avail.
The report reveals a routine of mass extrajudicial executions by hanging. Detainees included doctors, lawyers, activists, engineers and humanitarian workers, says Amnesty.
Besides the hangings, Amnesty says, “Large numbers of detainees have also been killed as a result of the authorities' extermination policies, which include repeated torture and the systematic deprivation of food, water, medicine and medical care.” 
Judge interviewed
One of the judges interviewed by Amnesty recalled the actual killing process inside the “execution room” in the prison's “white building,” one of Saydnaya's two main blocks.
"They kept them there [hanging] for 10 to 15 minutes. Some didn't die because they are light. For the young ones, their weight wouldn't kill them. The officers' assistants would pull them down and break their necks,” he said.
Before detainees are hanged, they are condemned to death at the Military Field Court. The trials last between one and three minutes. On the day the prison authorities carry out the hangings, which they refer to as “the party,” they collect the victims from their cells in the prison's “red building.” The detainees are told that they will be transferred to a civilian prison.
“Instead, they are brought to a cell in the basement of the red building, where they are severely beaten over the course of two or three hours,” Amnesty claims.
In the middle of the night, they are blindfolded and transferred in delivery trucks or minibuses to the “white building.” This takes place once or twice a week, and on each occasion between 20 and 50 people are hanged to death,” Amnesty alleges.
Silence is enforced
The rights organization said prison inmates are regularly tortured, through severe beatings and sexual violence.
“They are denied adequate food, water, medicine, medical care and sanitation, which has led to the rampant spread of infection and disease. Silence is enforced, even during torture sessions. Many detainees develop serious mental illnesses such as psychosis,” the researchers say.
Omar, a high-school student when he was arrested, shared an experience with Amnesty, "The guard would ask everyone to take off all their clothes and go to the bathroom one by one... they would select one of the boys ...They would ask him to stand with his face to the door and close his eyes. They would then ask a bigger prisoner to rape him...No one will admit this happened to them, but it happened so often...Sometimes psychological pain is worse than physical pain, and the people who were forced to do this were never the same again."
'A monstrous campaign' 
“The horrors depicted in this report reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign, authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government, aimed at crushing any form of dissent within the Syrian population,” said Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for research at Amnesty International's regional office in Beirut.
She added, “The upcoming Syria peace talks in Geneva cannot ignore these findings. Ending these atrocities in Syrian government prisons must be put on the agenda. The U.N. must immediately carry out an independent investigation into the crimes being committed at Saydnaya and demand access for independent monitors to all places of detention.”

December 8, 2015

Trumps Calls for Blocking All Muslims [Graph Asylum Seekers in the US by Origin]


On Monday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a block on all Muslims trying to enter the United States. Trump remains the front-runner for the Republican presidential bid. Include the following visualizations to display:
{interactive: move cursor over map} 

October 20, 2015

Misery is… 'Being Gay in Syria’ [See 4 Cases]

Khalid*, 36, a gay man from Iraq who fled rape and persecution for the relative safety of Lebanon. Photo: Robin Hammond
The high-summer fields stretch towards the distant Mediterranean like a billowing patchwork quilt. Following the contours of Lebanon’s foothills, a small group of hard-faced Arab youths slip in and out of view between derelict farmsteads and crumbling, bullet-pocked minarets.

Behind them is, literally, the road to Damascus. The refugees have just crossed illegally from Syria into Lebanon, in the narrow margins between the only two official border crossings left open between the countries. The Mount Lebanon range has long been the cruellest of demarcations. Those who are crossing it now are in fear of their lives. Most are young and, mercifully, fit enough to flit nimbly between checkpoints. Some are gay - and they've embarked upon this journey not knowing if they will find safety or further persecution on the other side of the border in Lebanon. It is a risk they are prepared to take.

"In my opinion, it cannot get any worse than being gay in Syria today," Halim*, a human-rights campaigner, tells me in a packed bar in Lebanon's capital, Beirut. "It's a place where you don't know your enemy. Seeing people you have had casual sex with being taken in on the street, and wondering if they will take you down with them. Lovers turning on lovers. 
Wolfheart*, 29, a gay man from Lebanon, was arrested, tortured and imprisoned for cruising. Photo: Robin Hammond
"Also, this isn't just an Islamic State story," he continues. "If you are gay, you have many enemies intent on your persecution: the government, Islamic State (IS), al-Nusra [the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda]. That's not including your own extended family: they are often enemy number one." On the table in front of us is an untidy ring-binder detailing the torture that has been inflicted on gay men in Syria. Methods include the shabeh, which roughly translates as "the ghost" and involves handcuffing the victims' arms behind their backs and using them to hoist their bodies into the air, putting extreme pressure on the shoulder sockets, often until they pop out.

Other men accused of being gay, who have been abducted in the night by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's agents, describe being placed, helpless and motionless, inside the rims of large tyres and brutalised with electrodes and iron bars. The testimony of one Homs teenager details, in spidery writing, how he had his testicles smashed with a hammer by a member of the Syrian Republican Guard.

For gay people on the run from Syria, being "out" in Lebanon isn't an option, either. Lebanon now has the highest proportion of refugees in the world, with Syrian refugees making up a quarter of the country's population. "We know hundreds, thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [LGBT] refugees are coming across, but if we start counting, it could be used against them and us," says Halim. "It's better they slip unnoticed into Lebanon. Prejudice against gay men and women doesn't stop at the border. The trouble is, they are being arrested and abused here in Lebanon, too.”
Sally*, a gay man who identifies as a woman, had to flee her Islamic State-held home town in Syria. Photo: Robin Hammond

Later, we sit in a cafe as it winds down for the night, restlessly sipping strong black coffee and examining a map showing routes across the border. Halim plays a video montage on his tablet. Frantic Arabic news commentators begin speaking over slow-motion footage of a masked IS executioner clutching what looks like a gleaming saif sword. In the dirt before him kneel four condemned souls, each accused of sodomy. An elderly man, a magistrate, steps up.

To me, he is familiar - I have seen him before in IS showreels. The magistrate uses a microphone to read to the crowd a few adulterated utterances from the Koran, and their fates are sealed.
I remain glued to the screen, waiting for the camera to pan away from the execution, but no respite comes. A head rolls in the dust, then a second and a third. Fountains of blood jerk from the necks of the men. As I give the tablet a final, reluctant glance, the camera pans to the crowd. No longer baying 
over the bodies, they have moved on, bored and traumatized all at once. 

Nathalie*, 41, who describes herself as a woman who used to be a man, is from Syria, where she was tortured. Photo: Robin Hammond
In recent months, the photojournalist Robin Hammond and I have interviewed gay citizens in Africa and the Middle East. Theirs is a narrative of great pain and desperate suffering. Here in the Middle East, it is clear that the taboo against same-sex activity is getting stronger, not weaker, and a corrupted version of Islam finds itself at the heart of much of this hatred.

Homosexuality is legal in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank, but not in Hamas-controlled Gaza. In nearly 50 Muslim-dominated countries, individuals face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. But in the IS-controlled regions of Syria and northern Iraq, the persecution of gay men and women has reached a new level of malice.
In the early evening in a crumbling tenement in Beirut's southern suburbs, we meet four gay Syrian men. Safehouses have a uniformity of sorts. There are always broken TVs. Strong black tea is offered. Furniture is sparse, curtains torn. Threadbare carpets are laid out with small low tables. Without exception, cigarettes are passed around to calm the nerves. A battered Toshiba laptop sits in the centre of the one-bedroom apartment. On its screen, another film is on a loop.

A middle-aged man, handsome, grey-bearded, hands bound, is being held by his ankles from a 10-storey building by IS thugs dressed in leather jackets and long blue tunics. The man is held for several minutes as he weeps, before he is dropped onto the concrete some 30 metres below. On impact the baying mob, including children, cheer and laugh. As has been the case in other rooftop-to-ground murders of allegedly gay men at the hands of IS, the victim survives the fall, twitching in the dirt, but is stoned to death by the bloodthirsty crowds. For their convenience, jagged rocks have been supplied and left in small piles.

"They are holding out his mobile phone on the ledge as evidence," says Sami*, a gay man in his early 30s, from Raqqa, the IS heartland in northern Syria. "They are using it to justify the execution. Social media is killing our brothers. It is the first thing IS are asking for at checkpoints now: 'Hand over your mobile!' If they find anything that links you to another man - photographs, your Facebook profile, a single text you cannot explain, anything - then you are dead. It is over for you."
To prove his point, Sami opens Manjam, which he describes as a popular gay "hook-up" app, adopted from Turkey into Syria and surrounding countries. "Look at this," he says. "In 2013, there were perhaps a few thousand Syrians active on Manjam. The Assad regime generally looked away - in the north, at least.”

Sami counts the active accounts within Syria and finds 26 profiles in use in Raqqa. "How many of those 26 are IS hunting?" he asks. "Who would have a death wish to use a gay app there?" The broader truth is that governments across the region are also using digital surveillance to entrap, detain and harass homosexuals.

Police in states where homosexuality is outlawed frequently use apps to convince men to meet them, before arresting them, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based NGO that monitors the use of technology in the violation of human rights. A 30-year-old man was recently arrested in Saudi Arabia after asking men out for dates on Facebook.

Everyone in this shabby room acknowledges that IS alone did not bring homophobia to Syria. Gay men there have long been the target of "honour killings", as they are considered a disgrace to their families. Others have been imprisoned.

The civil war, however, has intensified the persecution. At the heart of the IS plan to target and wipe out the LGBT community are the Hisbah - the religious police, named after a Muslim doctrine that translates roughly as “accountability".

"IS want the Muslim world to know that they are executing gays, because it displays their credentials as enforcers of sharia law," says Ryan Mauro, a security analyst at the Clarion Project, a US-based NGO that works to combat extremism. “There is widespread anti-homosexual sentiment in the Muslim world because of the belief that sharia requires the execution of gays."

The language of persecution comes from both sides. To prove his point, Sami recites a description of "gay traits" found in IS pamphlets in Raqqa, later discovered to have been taken from a government-controlled Syrian newspaper. " 'A gay man can have a loose wrist, a noticeable way of using the fingers, sitting and crossing the legs together in a feminine manner and an interest in gossip and whispers. These are among homosexuals’ main distinctive features.' "

Knowing who the enemy is has become increasingly difficult for gay people. From the ranks of its own religious police force, IS is believed to have deployed undercover agents to entrap those who have been accused by others of being gay.

Elmo*, a doctor now working in a call centre in Beirut, fled his IS-held town in Syria after a member of his family - a cousin attempting to curry favour with his new masters - betrayed him to the militants. Such betrayals are common.

"The attitude now if you are gay and trapped inside [Syria] is, 'Trust nobody', " says Elmo. "Not your mother, nor your closest friend. The only difference between all the factions is that some will torture you before they kill you if you are outed and caught.”

Testimonies gathered by Proud, a campaign group set up by Bertho Makso, a gay Lebanese man, include reports of decapitations, and one of a transgender woman in a Damascus suburb who was hanged by her breasts until she died.

A similar database compiled by New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) late last year detailed a male couple who were captured by the Syrian government after being identified as gay, based on text messages between them. The men were beaten, referred to pejoratively as tante (auntie), and for 10 nights were forced to strip and have sex with each other in front of their Syrian army interrogators, who used chalk to make up their faces.

Another man, who used to work in the fashion industry, was abducted by unidentified armed men in an area of Damascus controlled by the Syrian army. He said they similarly referred to him as tante, forced him to strip and raped him.

HRW says that the ordeal for gay men doesn't necessarily end at the Lebanese border. In a number of cases, the NGO has documented gay men being subjected to excruciating and abusive anal exams by the Lebanese Internal Security Forces. This, despite calls by Lebanese doctors and the justice minister in 2012 to abolish the practice, which amounts to torture.

The road back towards the Qalamoun mountains in Syria passes through Ersal. This town in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley, whose name means "Throne of God" in Aramaic, has become one of the flashpoints of the region. This isn't my first time travelling along this confusing line in the sand. Here, portraits of Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and fallen Hezbollah fighters dot the walls of residences.
Elsewhere, Sunni-populated areas have become de facto safe havens for Syrian rebel fighters. Equally, Shia areas of the northern Bekaa Valley look out with trepidation at the rise of extremist Sunni Salafi-jihadi groups. To the outsider, the whole area is impenetrable.
For the Syrian refugees who have made it to the fragile sanctuary of the Bekaa, the journeys of exile are far from tales of liberation.

"The road to the Lebanese border has become known as the Corridor of Death," says Sally*, a gay man who now identifies as a woman, whom I meet in Beirut. "There are perhaps 50 or 60 checkpoints. The soldiers are bored and isolated. They single out anyone they suspect of being gay.

"They keep us behind at night," she continues, looking away, wincing. Sally was living in Deir ez-Zor, the largest city in eastern Syria, when IS entered her district. "I knew from reports that they were carrying out executions for 'crimes' like pre-marital sex and homosexuality. The Hisbah, their religious police, hunted from house to house. Families were turning on families. I knew it was only a matter of time before one of my relatives reported me. Because I am feminine, I knew I would be singled out.”

Sally details her journey, on which Syrian soldiers sexually abused her at a number of checkpoints. In return for "favours", she was allowed to pass. Eventually, she reached the Lebanese border. A journey that should have taken seven hours took almost a week.

increasingly, those in flight like sally have nowhere to run. Lebanon is turning the taps off, managing its borders through just two official crossings, Masnaa in the Bekaa Valley, and Arida, to the north. Lebanon's border with Syria stretches 375 kilometres and covers rough terrain that cannot be monitored through human efforts alone. Helicopters mounted with infrared cameras fly overhead. But those determined to cross still do, making their way across country to the suburbs of Beirut.

IS is not the first organisation to use barbarism against LGBT people as a weapon of war, and they won't be the last. But their levels of violence and depravity are unprecedented. Without some kind of intervention, this civil war will continue to drive Syria's gay men and women to make the perilous journey into Lebanon via the foothills of Mount Lebanon - or across the Kabir River, which forms the northern border of the two countries - with no guarantee of a safe haven on the other side. 

* Names have been changed
This is an edited version of a story first published in The Sunday Times Magazine, London.

  Sydney Morning Herald 

March 7, 2015

Amid Daily Attacks Syrian Gays Fear Isis the Worse


The photographs released by ISIS in its stronghold of Raqqa are dated March 2015. The first ones show a large crowd, mostly men, but also among them a handful of women and children, all looking up.

Three men on top of a building, faces covered in black balaclavas, stand on either side of their victim, while a fourth seems to be taking a photo or video.

Their victim is thrown off the building. In the last photograph, he is seen face down, surrounded by a small crowd of men, most carrying weapons, some with rocks in their hands. The caption reads "stoned to death."

The victim brutally killed because he was accused of being gay.

There are at least half a dozen documented cases of men being similarly killed by ISIS. What’s even more sickening for Nour, a gay Syrian man, is the onlookers’ reaction. 

"It's too much to watch, and people are just standing there in these images and watching, and they are not doing anything, and their facial expressions are really scary because they are not even scared of what is going on," says Nour, who's also an LGBT rights activist. "They might be a little bit excited or maybe happy to get rid of homosexuals in the city."

Though in Istanbul, fear of persecution continues to haunt Nour, who asked us to conceal his identity as he waits and hopes for asylum in America and continues to campaign for rights for people who are LGBT -- lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans.

A history of abuse
As a teenager, over a decade ago, Nour suffered because of his sexuality.

"The worst bullying was at school," he remembers. "I was approached in the street a number of times, verbally abused and sometimes physically abused."

There was no one to protect him. His family rejected his sexual orientation, his country criminalized it.

Article 520 of the Syrian Penal Code of 1949 states: "Any unnatural sexual intercourse shall be punished with a term of imprisonment of up to three years."

Nour left Syria in 2012, before ISIS took over huge swaths of the country, after seeing a video of two men being beheaded. According to the voice on the clip, they are accused of being spies. Then toward the end, the voice speaks about "shaking the throne of God."

"Whenever we hear this in video or audio, we know that this is exactly meant for gay people," he says. "It was the moment of clarity, the moment of understanding; this place is not safe anymore."

The pictures released by ISIS and other videos refer to gay men as the tribe of Lot, who, according to readings of the Quran and the hadith, or prophetic traditions, sinned by refusing Prophet Lot's call to cease their homosexual activity and led to the destruction of Sodom. One hadith states, "When a man mounts another man, the throne of God shakes."

Since the revolution turned war in Syria, the situation for the nation's LGBT community has become even more dire.

"LGBT people in Syria need help, and they need to be supported. We tried to reach out to some groups, international entities, and they said that LGBT people in Syria are not our priority, and that would mean that our lives are not worthy for them to rescue," Nour says.

This week, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, a nongovernmental organization based in New York, started "Don't Turn Away," an awareness-raising campaign calling for action to protect LGBT Syrians and Iraqis from ISIS' merciless brutality.

On its website, the group states, "What is clear is the Islamic State's intent -- to spread terror among an already persecuted population in the region and to warn against any kind of 'moral' transgression."

The commission is calling on governments and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to expedite resettlement and refugee applications for LGBTs.

Driven away by threats
Sami and his partner are among those waiting. Dressed in matching outfits, they already consider themselves married, laughing about how they first met online. They too, like Nour, don't want their identities revealed.

When Sami's family found out about his relationship, he says, his brother tried to beat him up. He started to receive threatening phone calls from family and strangers.

This past summer, while the couple was walking in the streets in Damascus, a car tried to run them over.

"I was able to pull myself away, but my husband couldn't," Sami recalls. "The car hit his leg and he fell to the ground."

There is no doubt that it was a deliberate attempt to kill them. Two hours after the attack, Sami's phone rang.

"There was a man who said this time you could have made it, you could have survived, but the next time you will not."

The couple fled to Turkey a few months ago, but they can't shake the fear that their relationship could cost them their lives.

They share housing with other Syrian refugees, where they have to continue to pretend that they are straight. When the ISIS photographs emerged, one of their housemates made a sickening comment.

"He made an absurd joke about how he was so amused, had too much fun watching homosexuals. He says now gay men can fly."

They say they will never return to Syria. And neither will Nour.

"It's too damaging for my psychological state, because I have been abused too much from my family, friends, school. It’s not safe for me psychologically or physically," he says

By Arwa Damon and Zeynep Bilginsoy, CNN

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