Human Rights Watch: Gay men hunted, raped and killed by Syrian Army

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A report published today from Human Rights Watch has revealed the danger that many gay individuals face in Syria from not only the Syrian Army and Islamist organisations, but from their family members too.

In February, Human Rights Watch carried out interviews with 19 gay Syrian men seeking refuge in Lebanon. The extent of their suffering was both explicit and harrowing.

One man, who wished to remain anonymous, described his ordeal. After being kidnapped by the Syrian Islamic Liberation front, the 26-year-old was kept detained in an abandoned ice cream factory for 23 days.

There he suffered verbal and physical torture, and witnessed two men being executed for their “blasphemy”, a fate he feared he would suffer.

His father, who at the time was unaware his son was gay, paid a ransom to have him freed to Lebanon. However, the Islamist group outed the individual which prompted the father to call his son to threaten to have him killed if he is ever found.

In addition to his fathers reaction, the man’s younger brother subsequently joined the same group who kidnapped him in a bid to find him.

Among the other men interviewed, it was found that over half were subject to family rejection, in addition to the physical and verbal violence suffered from extreme Islamist groups, five of which were subject to death threats.

A gay couple, who were kidnapped by the Syrian army, were forced to strip and have sex with each other in front their interrogators.

The men used chalk to make up their faces, whilst chanting “tante” (auntie). In another interview, one man said he was abducted by the Syrian Army and referred to again as “tante” before forcing him to strip and raping him.

A 38-year-old baker fled to Lebanon after learning that his family had given his personal details to the armed Islamist group, Jabhat al-Nusra in a bit to find him. He said: “I know my family will always try to find me so they can kill me”.

Family members see their relatives’ homosexuality as a disgrace, and the rejection and persecution they commit as a result are done in a bid to overcome some of that public disgrace.

One man, a 30-year-old teacher, learned that his brother, who had joined an armed opposition group, had killed his partner and that he was looking for him. He has since fled to Lebanon.

The war did not bring homophobia to Syria, but it has however intensified the surveillance and public exposure of gay men, who have been the victim of “honor killings” since 1949.

Although Lebanon has taken steps to strengthen human rights over the past few years, including establishing a human rights department in 2008, it has little to no authority, and struggles to prevent cases of abuse and violence.

The danger and persecution gay Syrians face from not only the Syrian Army, but from their family also, has urged the need for basic levels of protection and assistance to be offered, Human Rights Watch said.