Global Education

Iranian lesbian hits the big screen

By Shervin Rezaei
Published: June 2010

Kiana Firouz, a 27-year-old Iranian actress, attended the London premiere of the independent film Cul de Sac on May 20, a film in which she plays the leading role as a lesbian Iranian woman pleading for asylum in Britain. 

The main character of this independent film faces heavy discrimination by Iranian authorities and is eventually ordered to return to Iran to pay for the crime of homosexuality. Understandably, Firouz’s character repeatedly asks the British Home Office to give her refugee status and allow her to reside peacefully in Britain, but the Home Office continuously rejects her.

Unfortunately for Kiana Firouz, this low-budget film is no piece of fiction; this documentary recounts her personal life struggle. Firouz used to reside in Tehran, Iran, where her work as a lesbian activist and filmmaker first blossomed.

When clips of her documentary featuring the persecution of homosexuals in Iran fell into the possession of Iranian authorities, her life was immediately at risk. Iranian intelligence agents relentlessly harassed and threatened her, forcing Firouz to flee from Iran and continue her documentary work in Britain.

President Ahmadinejad insisted that homosexuality was nonexistent in Iran when he spoke at Columbia University in 2007. Although this statement is clearly false, his regime works diligently to persecute any “perpetrators of homosexuality.

 According to contemporary Iranian Islamic law, homosexuality in Iran is a heinous crime against God and a disruption of the delicate workings of society. If found guilty, homosexual individuals of mature and sound mind are subject to relentless flogging.

For each proven offense, criminals face 100 lashes, and on the fourth offense, authorities deliver the death sentence.

A woman of “unrepentant homosexuality usually faces public hanging. “Definitely she will be killed, London based co-director of Cul de Sac Ramin Goudarzi Nejad said.

Although the British Ministry is well aware of these severe punishments, they have continued to reject Firouz’s applications for asylum. She turned to a court appeal following one of the most recent rejections, but the judge overruled her appeal. According to her lawyer, at this point, deportation and execution are imminent. In a recent interview, she continued to display her courage and dedication to her human rights battle. “As an Iranian lesbian I think the film is the best way to show how difficult life is for lesbians in my country, she said.

“This film, contains sex scenes that would be sufficient evidence for receiving a death sentence if I were sent back to Iran. Now, my only hope is to mobilize the international LGBT community.

Firouz did not simply mobilize the international LGBT community; she brought forth an uproar. Ever since the directors of Cul de Sac uploaded a trailer for the film on YouTube in December of 2009, several communities have thrown their support behind Firouz and protested against the British Home Office. Mahshad Torkan, one of the London based co-directors of Cul de Sac, created an online petition to attempt to stop the deportation of Firouz back to Iran. Currently, the petition has garnered over 37,000 signatures, and continues to grow steadily. 

The EveryOne Group, an international human rights organization, has also joined the struggle in support of Firouz.

The EveryOne Group holds a strong position in assisting asylum cases, having saved lesbian Pegah Emambakhsh from deportation back to Tehran from London in 2007, and also having saved Iranian gay Mehdi Kazemi.

Furthermore, the EveryOne Group has appealed to the British government, the European Union, and the current United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees António Guterres in order to attempt to save Firouz. 

The activists in the group wish to guarantee Firouz humanitarian protection and repeal from deportation, not only on the premise that she will be killed, but that she represents international civil rights activism against the repression of gays and lesbians in Islamic countries.

LGBT Asylum News, an activist group which also aided in the case of Mehdi Kazemi, agrees with the EveryOne Group on the importance of saving Firouz, because she will be executed “not for being a lesbian but for embarrassing the regime, editor Paul Canning said.

The EveryOne activists’ most prominent contribution to date to this asylum case is their bombardment of relentless protest e-mail messages to the British Home Office.

 “She will be in incredible danger, not only because she’s clearly gay but because the film does not show the Iranian authorities in a good light. They will probably seek to make an example of her, one of her legal representatives at a recent interview said. Heterosexual Iranian man Jafar Panahi, one of Iran’s leading pro-reform filmmakers, became one of such examples.

For criticizing the Iranian government in one his latest films, Panahi was locked up as a political prisoner in Tehran’s Evin prison.

As revealed by French actress Juliette Binoche in a letter by one of his friends, which she read aloud during the Cannes Film Festival, Panahi requires international attention to be set free. Since May 23, Panahi has been on hunger strike in Evin prison.

From the Home Office’s statements, it seems that Firouz will soon face a similar, but undoubtedly worse, fate as Jafar Panahi.

“The UK Border Agency only enforces the return of individuals when we, and the independent courts, are satisfied that they’re not in need of protection, the Home Office said. Confused and in dire need of protection, Firouz revealed her disappointments on Radio Free Europe: “I’m shattered and emotionally devastated that they have dealt with my application so irresponsibly.

At present, the Conservative Party of Britain often sends asylum-seeking individuals back to their homophobic regimes and tells them to keep their sexuality a secret. Of course for Kiana Firouz, this solution is impossible.

Currently, Firouz lives in London, on the brink of life and death, overwhelmed with requests from journalists.

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