Activist/analyst Scott Long here exposes:
- Unsubstantiated news reports that an Iranian teenager was hanged for being gay; and
- A fake Twitter account that apparently was set up to convince Egyptian authorities to arrest Long.
Excerpts from Long’s blog post, with breaker heads added:
Gay hanging in Iran: Atrocities and impersonations
THE BOGUS HANGING
[After international negotiations with Iran ended with a deal announced July 14,] right-wing pundit Amir Taheri greeted the nuclear deal with a storm of tweets and screeds condemning it. One 140-character charge drew special attention.Anyone’s first reaction would be some version of “My God.” It sounded horrible. I wrote to Taheri asking for more information — and so, judging from Twitter, did at least three other people.
But the story quickly began to show cracks. Taheri didn’t reply to me, or anybody. I sat down that night with a Farsi-speaking friend and began searching for the story in the Iranian press: under the youth’s name, under various other key words. It didn’t turn up anywhere. I wrote to the Toronto-based Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO), a diaspora-based group of LGBT Iranian activists with which I’ve worked closely over the years. They searched the media as well and found no sign of it. They also reached out to contacts in Isfahan. On [July 17], they told me no one there had heard of the story, either.
Amir Taheri lies a lot. Eight years ago, Jonathan Schwartz called him “one of the strangest ingredients in America’s media soup,” adding, “There may not be anyone else who simply makes things up as regularly as he does, with so few consequences.” An arch-conservative protege of the Pahlavis, an editor of the Tehran daily Kayhan under the Shah, he repeatedly fabricates stories about Iran to please right-wingers in his adoptive West.
Most famously, in 2006 he claimed in Canada’s National Post that a new dress-code law in Iran would impose special clothes on religious minorities, including yellow badges for Jews. Many conservatives swallowed the story; even the Canadian Prime Minister repeated it. But it was complete falsehood, and after a huge furor the National Post retracted it and apologized: “It is now clear the story is not true. … We apologize for the mistake and for the consternation it has caused.” (The Post also noted that Taheri went “unreachable” after his fiction was exposed, rather as he did on Twitter.) Undeterred, in 2008 Taheri concocted a quote from Ayatollah Khomeini, complete with a fake citation of an invented source; American neoconservative luminaries duly repeated it. In 2002, Taheri claimed that “Osama bin Laden is dead …. the fugitive died in December and was buried in the mountains of southeast Afghanistan.” The list of his duplicities goes on and on. …
HOW THE BOGUS HANGING WAS REPORTED
There are ample grounds for skepticism about stories Taheri spreads.
But skepticism doesn’t make headlines. Propaganda’s best friend is the ambition of the press. On Thursday, a reporter for the UK-based Gay Star News also tweeted to Taheri.
Taheri didn’t answer him, either. I know this because the reporter didn’t wait for a source. About 25 minutes later, his story — “GAY TEEN, 14, ‘HANGED FROM TREE’” — topped the website of Gay Star News [illustrated with a 10-year-old photo of the hanging of Iranian rapists — Editor], and it said Taheri hadn’t told them anything. In other words, their entire account was based on one single tweet with no evidence behind it. This tweet was special, though. The topic of gay killings in Iran has shown its passionate drawing power over a decade, its ability to keep queers clicking. GSN wanted the clicks for itself.
The reporter clearly never asked Iranian LGBT activists or groups for their take. It was more important to get the headline out there. I wrote to Tris Reid-Smith, GSN’s editor, and asked “Is this standard practice — to run a story based on a single, unsourced, unconfirmed tweet from someone who declines to answer follow-up questions?” Tris rather cannily refused to reply in writing; he wanted to talk by phone. My phone in Cairo is tapped; I declined. I wanted this on the record, but not State Security’s record. …GSN has since added a few sentences to its story, saying:
“we should note Iranian LGBTI networks have not confirmed the story. Some critics have questioned Taheri’s reliability. … UPDATE: For clarity, GSN has noted from the outset this report has not been independently verified. Taheri is yet to reply to our questions seeking to substantiate his claims. We urge caution but feel it is in the public interest to report the claims, given they are gaining traction on social media.”
Let that final sentence revolve in your mind. What defines news these days isn’t truth. It’s traffic. …
And of course the story spread. Neoconservative propagandist Ben Weinthal tweeted it no fewer than five times.
Weinthal is a lobbyist for the right-wing, pro-Israel Foundation for Defense of Democracies. One of his jobs is to drum up support in gay communities for hardline policies against Iran. I’ve detailed some of his misrepresentations here. His urgent drive to ensure Taheri’s tweet gets coverage suggests what the motives at work are.
No one should ever minimize the real, documented, and terrible human rights abuses in Iran. But credulity for suspicious stories devalues the true ones. Given Taheri’s record, and the tangled political context, there is no reason to credit this tale without corroboration.
BOGUS NEWS FROM 10 YEARS AGO
And here’s the thing: we’ve been through this before, and learned nothing. Look at the photo GSN attached to its article.
That famous image, exactly ten years old, reverberates with misery and horror. And cynics and opportunists know it as proven clickbait. In fact, the two youths were not executed simply for “being gay.” They were convicted of the rape, at knifepoint, of a 13-year-old boy. Claims that they were gay lovers circulated widely among Western activists; but no clear evidence materialized to confirm them. …
On July 19, 2005, the two teenagers were hanged in Mashhad. Reports in the local and national Iranian media said clearly they had been tried for tajavoz (rape) or lavat beh onf (“sodomy by force,” or male rape); the Quds newspaper in Mashhad quoted both the 13-year-old victim and his father. Another website of the Mujahedin e Khalq, however, published a piece on the execution aimed at Western audiences, and omitted the rape charge. …
With panic over Iran already in the air, the photos went vastly viral. If politics motivated some to promote the story, for others it was publicity. (Doug Ireland, who rode the story to a new journalistic job, told me his blog got 60,000 hits the first day he carried the pictures.)
[T]he story’s popularity led to a desperate search for sequels, for new “gay victims,” that stretched for years. Virtually any execution for rape reported in the Iranian media — even of male rapists of women — could be arrogated or mistranslated as a punishment for consensual sex. …
The Mashhad story survives, immune to consequences. Taheri certainly knows it — he surely suspected a 14-year-old victim would make his tweet go viral. The youths’ images are memed and manipulated everywhere.
A NEW, BOGUS, HOSTILE TWITTER ACCOUNT
Strangely, I took two different tacks with Amir Taheri. The day after I politely asked him for information, you could have found me on Twitter writing in quite a different tone:
Except that wasn’t me. It was an account someone set up under my name about a week ago, which has been firing off tweets to Egyptians and various right-wing Westerners ever since. It says I’m a pro-Iran Islamist. It uses an old picture of me, and the inevitable photo of the hanged Iranian youth.
The account isn’t a “parody.” Not just that it isn’t funny: it’s trying to get me arrested. It makes out that I support banned insurgent movements and want the Egyptian government overthrown. These messages it forwards to Egyptian tweeters, including government accounts.
That one tweet could easily lead to a few decades in prison here. And the person who put my name to it appears quite conscious of the fact.
Who’s behind this thing? I have no idea. …
The morning after I criticized the Taheri story on Twitter, the account exploded with vengeful drivel, directed at people inside and outside Egypt.
… Apparently I work for the Brotherhood, an illegal organization here.
My motives appear to be erotic as well as pecuniary.
I’m also an informer.
But mostly the account just strives to identify me with vicious anti-Semitic ravings, marking the intrinsic fascism of its maker’s mind. …
I wouldn’t pay attention to this crude fakery if it weren’t trying explicitly to incriminate me to Egypt’s government — which is arresting gay foreigners, and may not know the difference, or want to. I never cease to be surprised by the retributory malice of the Iran- and Islam-obsessed crowd, whether driven by ideology or the sheer love of headlines. They never stop.
Back in 2006, when Amir Taheri’s lies about Iran’s dress-code law were exposed, The Nation spoke to his PR agent. Accuracy on Iran is “a luxury,” she said. “As much as being accurate is important, in the end it’s important to side with what’s right. What’s wrong is siding with the terrorists.” You see? It’s us or them. Loyalty trumps truth. To expose useful lies is to take the terrorists’ side. And by that standard I am, of course, a terrorist.
Why does it matter? Because LGBT Iranians shouldn’t be exploited for propaganda. They lead lives seamed by danger, distinguished by courage; they deserve better than to be backgammon pieces, passive tokens stacked and shifted in a great-power political game. LGBT people should speak in their own voices, be masters and heroes of their own lives. That is what the liberation struggle is about.
NOTE: The fake account seems to have been taken down not long after I posted this: I don’t know whether by its maker or by Twitter (of course I complained). But, in some form or another, they’ll be back.
For more information, including images of many more tweets mentioned above, see the full “A Paper Bird” blog post, “Gay hanging in Iran: Atrocities and impersonations.“
- 14-Year-Old ‘Hanged From Tree’ For Being Gay At Iranian Boys’ Summer Camp (queerty.com)
- IRAN: 14-Year-Old Accused of Being Gay is Hanged at Boy’s Summer Camp (girlsjustwannahaveguns.com)
- 14-Year-Old Reportedly Hanged For Being Gay At Summer Camp In Iran (NewNowNext)
- 14 Year Old Boy Hanged In Iran For Being Gay (Doy News)
- Gay teen, 14, ‘hanged from tree’ at boys’ summer camp in Iran (GiveMeLiberty)
- Tweeting today really can help LGBTI Egyptians (Scott Long, 76crimes.com)
- Us vs. them (Egypt): Deport me! (Scott Long, 76crimes.com)
- Egypt: A call to protest anti-gay reporting, homophobia (76crimes.com)
- 5 steps to online safety for LGBT Egyptians;الشرطة المصرية تلاحق المجتمع المثلي