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Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

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Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

Punishable by death: Iranian gays run from homeland

As Hassan walked -- well, more like sashayed -- through the market in this southern Turkish city, the population on the sidewalk -- elderly women in dark veils, men behind stalls selling Turkish pears, children in woolly striped sweaters -- all gawked.

"Yes, look! Look all you want," Hassan said with a flourish, opening his arms in a benevolent gesture, as if their stares were rooted in adulation and not curiosity bordering on disgust. A portly, middle-aged woman narrowed her eyes and curled her lip at him.

"What?" said the 34-year-old Iranian refugee. "Is this the 1st time she's seen a man wearing makeup? Maybe she should take notes. She could use a few beauty tips."

Behind him, Farzan giggled. The slight 25-year-old, sporting a shoulder sack that would be labeled a purse even in the male-bag capitals of Tokyo and Paris, offered up a quick tale in his feminine lilt.

"The other day I was buying some eggs, and the man would not even take the money from my hand," he recounted. "He looked at me and said, 'Put the money on the table,' and spat on the floor. He gave me no change."

"You should have thrown the eggs in his face," lectured Hassan, anger flashing in his eyes, their color hazel by the grace of contact lenses. "We're out of Iran now, and you will not take that kind of treatment anymore. Not in Turkey, not anywhere. You stand up for yourself. One life being less than human was enough."

Freedom is relative. But for Hassan, mother hen to a gaggle of gay Iranians fleeing a nation where their sexuality is punishable by death, relatively secular Turkey is one step closer to a life less shackled.

More than 300 gays have fled Iran since the rise of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who infamously proclaimed in 2007, to guffaws from his audience at Columbia University, that there were no such things as gays in Iran. Most have crossed the border into Turkey, joining 2,000 Iranian refugees -- largely political dissidents and religious outcasts -- facing waits of two to three years as the United Nations processes their applications for asylum. Those who agreed to be interviewed asked that their last names be withheld for fear of reprisals against their families.

Turkey grants all refugees sanctuary only until the United Nations can find them homes in the United States, Canada, Western Europe or Australia. To avoid a critical mass in any one Turkish city, the refugees are dispersed to 2 dozen locations. The list does not include more progressive Istanbul but rather smaller metropolises, such as Isparta, that remain influenced by Islam in the same way Christianity influences the Bible Belt.

In a nation where the party that won the Turkish elections in 2002 has since sought to improve ties with Tehran, the refugees' movements are strictly limited. They can't work or engage in political activity, and must check in at police stations at least twice a week.

Human rights groups say the number of gays taking flight has jumped in recent months as some came out of the shadows for a fleeting moment around the time of last June's tainted elections, trying to join the anti-government campaigns that ultimately sparked a brutal crackdown.

It marked the first time, gay activists say, that a reviled underclass in Iran poked its face to the surface. It stayed there just long enough to get slapped.

"The bravery that has come out of the gay community in Iran since the elections has been inspiring, but the government has not taken it lightly," said Saghi Ghahraman, an Iranian exile who helps operate a Canadian-based organization providing guidance to gays trying to escape Iran. "They have come down harshly and violently. They've made it more difficult than ever to be gay in Iran."

On the outskirts of Isparta, in southern Turkey, the door opened to the living room of a basement apartment. Taymuoury emerged in one of the black gowns worn by conservative Islamic women. He repeatedly bowed, praising Allah with fast-rolling trills off his tongue. Then, comically, salaciously, he opened his garment to reveal a blood-red bra, grabbing his stuffed chest to bursts of laughter from the gay Iranians in the room.

Muslim drag

For Farzan, as with the 10 other gay Iranians assigned to Isparta as they await passage, such moments of humor are a release from grim lives. On any given afternoon, they'll put on an impromptu drag show, donning, for instance, belly dancer outfits made from cheap tablecloths. They slather on cosmetics brought from Iran by the one true transvestite among them: Farhad, 26, the self-proclaimed "Queen of Isfahan," who spirited a trunk of women's clothes and 200 shades of lipstick over the border.

Most say they have been subject to gay bashing in Isparta; one neighbor tossed a rock through the window of the squalid apartment where Hassan lives with five other gay Iranians, and Turks shout gay epithets when they venture outdoors. Hassan said a shopkeeper and his son punched and kicked him, then urinated on him.

They now stay inside as much as possible, their lives in some ways more secret here than in Iran, a nation harboring a complex relationship with homosexuality.

Sex between two men in Iran is punishable by death after the 1st offense; sex between 2 women carries a penalty of 100 lashes, with the death penalty applicable on the 4th violation. In 2005 2 gay teenagers, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, were famously hanged in the city of Mashhad. Yet the government offers financial assistance for sex-change operations -- the idea being, apparently, that if they change sexes, their desires would no longer violate religious law.

Still, the refugees describe a certain don't-ask, don't-tell policy in everyday life. At his front-desk job at a Tehran hotel, Hassan wore light foundation and was open about his sexuality. A few coworkers teased him. " 'Hey, lady,' they would sometimes call when they needed me," said Hassan, who speaks fluent English. But for the most part, he said, he was accepted.

He and others were part of an underground scene at cafes, parks and private homes. In Tehran, where Hassan and Farzan lived until last year, dozens of gay men would gather on Thursdays at Laleh Park.

After Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005, however, the campaign against gays intensified, according to international gay organizations. In Isfahan, authorities raided gay parties; photos on the Internet showed revelers badly bruised following their arrests. Three refugees said they were raped in prison. Both Hassan and Farzan said they received 10 to 25 lashes on repeated occasions.

The pressure, the men here say, led them to hang their hopes on last year's elections, believing a change in leadership might restore more tolerance.

Last April, Farzan was among those in a budding gay rights movement, linking up via social networking sites, posting messages supporting Ahmadinejad's opponents and spreading the word about rallies organized by anti-government dissidents and student groups.

When those groups took to the streets to protest Ahmadinejad's claim of victory a month later, Farzan and other gays joined in. During protests in Tehran, some identified themselves as gay by wearing thumb rings or toting rainbow flags, a symbol of the gay movement in the West.

"For a moment, it felt so powerful," Farzan said through an interpreter. "We were marching in the streets. There were not that many of us, maybe 150 in a crowd of thousands. But we were gay, and we were together, and we were calling for freedom."

Gay refugees in other cities, such as Shiraz, said student groups welcomed their participation. But in Tehran, gays and lesbians were discouraged from protests, Farzan said: "They did not want us to stain the reputation of the anti-government movement by joining in."

Ultimately, Farzan said, their brief movement was broken up by the government crackdown in response to the protests. Gays and lesbians were targeted, with dozens arrested. Several cafes where gays gathered were shut down. Worse, he and others here said, the government began tracing profiles on gay social networking sites, informing their families and employers of their "crimes against religion."

In November, Farzan was expelled from dental school. He went home to his family in another town, only to find they had received a call from security agents. His parents kicked him out.

He contacted Hassan, his friend who had fled to Turkey months earlier. As Hassan has done with a number of gay refugees, he offered to help put Farzan in contact with U.N. officials, and secure housing for him in Isparta as he waited for asylum. In December, Farzan boarded a bus to the Turkish border with his life savings of $800.

"I have no idea how I'm going to make it here for 2 or 3 years on that," Farzan said. "But I keep telling myself that this is for the best, and I'll find a way. I once thought things could change in Iran, but now I know they won't. I did the only thing I could -- I got out."

Source: Washington Post, April 3, 2010


CBC Report (in English): "Out in Iran - Inside Iran"s Secret Gay World"


Out in Iran - Inside Iran"s Secret Gay World
posted by GayClic.

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