Iran is one of the handful of countries that continues to execute gay men. The local media is not known to be supportive of the LGBTQI community. But, it has now come to light that even the international media might be publishing homophobic articles.

British broadcaster BBC World’s Persian service has recently been called out for publishing content that referred to LGBTQI persons using “homophobic” and “derogatory” terms. 

UK-based human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who has filed a complaint with the BBC World Service, has sought an apology and an independent inquiry into the incident.

“BBC Persian is infiltrated by staff who are apologists or possibly agents for the Iranian dictatorship,” Tatchell, who is originally from Australia, said in a statement. 

Homophobic Blog

The objectionable content appeared in a blog published on December 28, 2020. “BBC Persian published a post describing LGBT+ people as ‘hamjensbaz‘, which I am told is the Persian language equivalent of the word ‘faggot’,” Tatchell said in his letter to the BBC.

According to Tatchell, it was only after protests from LGBTQI Iranians that BBC got the objectionable language removed. 

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 BBC added an editorial note to the article: “In an earlier version of this article, a word was used to refer to homosexual relations in the historical context of Iran that is not among the terms that BBC uses to describe sexual orientations and was therefore inappropriate. It is now corrected.”

However, Tatchell said that the objectionable word was not the only problematic aspect of the blog.

“The post went on to compare LGBT+ people to opium addicts and people who have sex with their siblings. Again, only after protests was this deleted but it was replaced by the equally offensive insult ‘ghabahat‘ – which apparently means abomination.”

“UK tax payers funding hatred?”

Tatchell pointed out that this was not the first time that the BBC’s Iranian service has used derogatory terms for the LGBTQI community. A July 6, 2019, BBC Persian TV broadcast a news story about a Pride march and mocked “what it allegedly described as ‘so-called’ LGBT Pride.”

In a post on Twitter, Tatchell questioned if UK taxpayers knew that they were funding “hatred”.

Iranian LGBTQI activists have started an online petition seeking that the Persian media stop using homophobic terms. 

Iran imposes death penalty on gay men

“In recent years, with the rise of queer rights movements in the world, including among Persian speakers, various Persian-speaking media have increasingly addressed issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity, but unfortunately in many cases, these media have not used appropriate terminologies,” the online petition said.

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 Tatchell said that Jamie Angus, the head of the BBC World Service, had promised a full investigation. BBC World is yet to make any official statement on the issue. 

Iran is one of the six UN member states that imposes the death penalty on gay men. The Iranian law says that same-sex conduct is punishable by flogging and for men it is punished with the death penalty. According to Human Rights Watch, Iran permits and subsidises sex reassignment surgery for transgender persons, but there is no law that prohibits discriminations against them. 

In 2019,  Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif had defended the execution of gay people. 

A 2008, British Wikileaks document has said that since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, “human rights activists and opponents of the Iranian regime claim between 4,000 and 6,000 gay men and lesbians have been executed in Iran.

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