A series of religiously-motivated murders of young Iraqis perceived to be gay or ’emo’ has rocked human rights groups and officials monitoring the area.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) began receiving reports from Iraq of a wave of targeted killings of individuals who are believed to be gay or lesbian last month.
The New York Times reports that in the past two weeks, officials had found the bodies of six young men whose skulls had been crushed with concrete blocks, while Reuters reports the toll to be 14 or more, citing hospital and security officials.
Human rights groups say the death toll is far higher amid accusations of a cover-up by security forces.
According to IGLHRC sources inside Iraq, as the result of this new surge of anti-gay violence, close to 40 people have been kidnapped, brutally tortured and murdered.
The word ’emo’ had also been used in the targeting. The term is widely associated with being gay in the conservative Muslim country where militias and the Iraqi media used similar markers of the subculture to identify men who had sex with men back in 2009.
In February, Iraq’s Interior Ministry denounced the music and fashions known collectively as ’emo’ as Satanic.
According to Iraqi human rights activists, in early February 2012, an unidentified group posted death threats against “the adulterous individuals” in the predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad and Basra.
The threats gave the individuals, whose names and ages were listed, four days to stop their behaviour or else “face the wrath of God”, and were to be carried out by the Mujahedin.
Iraqi authorities are being criticised by the IGLHRC for neither responding to the targeted violence nor publicly denouncing it.
The country’s Interior Ministry said in a statement last week that it had not recorded any anti-gay or anti-emo killings. It said the recent murders in the capital had been for “revenge, or social, criminal, political or cultural reasons”.
“The Government of Iraq represents a fully sovereign and democratic country. As such, it must protect all of its citizens including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from hate-filled violence and death at the hands of armed militias,” IGLHRC executive director Cary Alan Johnson said.
“We have seen these atrocities before. In 2009 vigilantes murdered hundreds of Iraqi individuals for their perceived sexual orientation. There are no excuses for such heinous human rights violations.
“We demand that the Iraqi Government put a stop to the wanton persecution and killing of gay people, and that the perpetrators punished.”
IGLHRC Middle East and North Africa program coordinator Hossein Alizadeh called on Iraqi authorities to immediately intervene to protect the LGBT community and to bring to justice those who are responsible for these atrocities.
“We particularly demand the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights denounce the anti-gay violence in Iraq and launch an official investigation into these heinous crimes,” Alizadeh said.