A rou­tine ex­e­cu­tion

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - By Graeme Reid Graeme Reid is LGBT rights direc­tor at Hu­man Rights Watch. This snap­shot of Shalwi’s life was pro­vided by a jour­nal­ist based in Benghazi with whom Reid is in com­mu­ni­ca­tion. He spoke to six men who knew Shalwi.

Twenty-six- year-old Faraj Ali Shalwi was a dap­per dresser. And while his tightknit cir­cle of friends in his Libyan home­town, Derna, ad­mired his sense of style, his neigh­bors treated him with sus­pi­cion. They said that his clothes were “con­tem­po­rary.” They also said they were “ef­fem­i­nate.”

Shalwi’s sar­to­rial choices were dif­fer­ent from those of most men, but they were prob­a­bly not danger­ous. That changed in Novem­ber when the lo­cal Is­lamic Youth Shura Coun­cil raised the black flag of the ex­trem­ist group Is­lamic State, pledg­ing al­le­giance to the caliphate. It in­stalled a new lo­cal gov­ern­ment, an Is­lamic po­lice force and an Is­lamic court.

Is­lamic State-al­lied mili­tias in eastern Libya have com­mit­ted nu­mer­ous atroc­i­ties, in­clud­ing sum­mary ex­e­cu­tions, public flog­gings and be­head­ings. Uniden­ti­fied as­sailants were re­spon­si­ble for at least 250 seem­ingly po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated as­sas­si­na­tions in 2014. Be­cause of the col­lapse of the ju­di­cial sys­tem in the re­gion, no one has been pros­e­cuted or pun­ished for th­ese killings.

Gay men or men per­ceived to be gay run a par­tic­u­lar risk in Is­lamic State-con­trolled ter­ri­to­ries. Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Gay and Les­bian Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, Is­lamic State ex­e­cuted at least 17 men in Syria and Iraq ac­cused of in­de­cent be­hav­ior, sodomy and adul­tery be­tween June 2014 and March 2015.

Derna’s roughly 100,000 in­hab­i­tants live be­tween moun­tains, the desert and the Mediter­ranean Sea. Just 50 miles west is the larger city of Bayda, where Shalwi grad­u­ated as a phar­ma­cist from Omar Al-Mukhtar Uni­ver­sity. He knew this city well, and even af­ter uni­ver­sity it re­mained the hub of his so­cial life. In Bayda, with its quar­ter-mil­lion in­hab­i­tants, he could be a bit more re­laxed about ex­press­ing his ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, al­beit among a group of trusted friends.

It was in this city that he met Saad Fakhakhiri, 40, who ran a clothes shop in Derna’s his­toric down­town. Soon the two be­came in­sep­a­ra­ble. Shalwi con­fided to a friend that he was in a re­la­tion­ship with Fakhakhiri and liked him. He was frus­trated be­cause it was risky to ex­press his feel­ings pub­licly. Any sex­ual re­la­tions out­side mar­riage as well as “lewd acts” are pun­ish­able with up to five years in pri­son un­der the Libyan Pe­nal Code.

Although they were care­ful, the re­la­tion­ship that blos­somed be­tween Shalwi and Fakhakhiri did not go un­no­ticed. In Novem­ber, the two men were strolling on Derna’s board­walk, talk­ing and jok­ing, when an Is­lamic po­lice pa­trol stopped, searched and ques­tioned them. The pa­trol warned them to not loi­ter in that area. It was in­tim­i­dat­ing at the time and, in ret­ro­spect, omi­nous. Soon af­ter the board­walk in­ci­dent, Shalwi and Fakhakhiri dis­ap­peared.

Through word of mouth, Shalwi’s friends learned that the two men had been de­tained by the Is­lamic po­lice in De­cem­ber on sus­pi­cion of ho­mo­sex­ual con­duct in a parked car. They were held in an un­known lo­ca­tion for five months by ex­trem­ist groups that pledged al­le­giance to Is­lamic State.

On April 30, the two men and a third also ac­cused of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, Nas­sib Jazawi, were brought to the court­yard of the Sa­haba Mosque, where masked men awaited them. Blind­folded, kneel­ing and with their hands tied, they were shot in the back of the head. The masked men yelled “Al­lahu ak­bar!”

Shame born of so­cial stigma pre­vented the fam­i­lies from hold­ing fu­neral ser­vices for the three men. Nor would they re­ceive con­do­lences. It was as if noth­ing had hap­pened.

Th­ese weren’t the first ex­e­cu­tions in Derna of men ac­cused of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. An ac­tivist in Derna told Hu­man Rights Watch that 45-year-old Fathi Katish, who was rel­a­tively out as a gay man, was shot near his home in March 2014 by uniden­ti­fied as­sailants.

And in July, 26-year-old Yousef Ghaithy, who had been jailed in 2008 un­der Moam­mar Kadafi’s rule for three years on sodomy charges, was thrown by uniden­ti­fied armed men from the edge of a moun­tain.

Is­lamic State has pub­lished at least eight on­line vis­ual re­ports de­pict­ing ex­e­cu­tions of ac­cused ho­mo­sex­u­als in Iraq and Syria. On Tues­day, it posted pho­to­graphs taken in Nin­eveh prov­ince, north­ern Iraq, show­ing a man ac­cused of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity be­ing held by his feet over the edge of a high build­ing and then dropped in front of a crowd of on­look­ers.

Although es­tab­lish­ing the ve­rac­ity of the sto­ries be­hind the grue­some images is al­most im­pos­si­ble, the fact that they are broad­cast as ex­e­cu­tions for “sodomy” or the “act of the peo­ple of Lot” has ter­ror­ized peo­ple who run afoul of Is­lamic State’s warped moral­ity. In this sense, the truth of the ac­cu­sa­tions is less im­por­tant than the mes­sage.

I watched a video of the April 30 ex­e­cu­tion, recorded by a wit­ness stand­ing at a dis­tance. It is the rou­tine na­ture of the ex­e­cu­tion that is so un­set­tling. In the af­ter­math men slowly leave the square. One wags his fin­ger, laugh­ing, while an­other hob­bles across the screen on crutches.

What is more chill­ing? Is it the ca­sual chat­ter of the men de­part­ing the ex­e­cu­tion site, as if leav­ing a foot­ball match, or is it the white vans re­vers­ing into the square to col­lect three bod­ies?

Wes Bau­smith Los An­ge­les Times

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