On May 21, 2016 The Saturday Paper reported: Two gay Iranians who met and fell in love on Nauru are now virtual prisoners in their own home on the island, downcast and fearful for their safety in a country where homosexuality is illegal.
Over a crackling phone line, Nima explains why he fled Iran three years ago: “Since I was young, when my father noticed that I [was] a homosexual, he started beating me up.” He quietly recalls the abuse meted out by authorities in Iran, where homosexuality carries the death penalty: “I was tormented. I was put under torture. I was raped. I was beaten.”
In 2013, Nima came to Christmas Island by boat. From there, he was sent to Nauru, where homosexuality is punishable by 14 years’ hard labour.
Nima describes constant abuse inflicted upon him by camp officials and other detainees. Passing through a security checkpoint, a Nauruan guard tried to sexually assault Nimawith a metal detector. Eating breakfast one morning, another asylum seeker approached him, pulled down his pants and ordered Nima to have sex with him. Other detainees swore at him, threatened to beat him or tried to force open the door of his cubicle when he was showering.
It was here that Nima met Ashkan, another gay man from Iran. Despite the inhumane camp conditions, the two men grew closer. During the day, they ate together, washed each other’s clothes and protected each other. At night, they lay in bed and talked of their lives in Iran and their hopes for the future.
“We are lovers; I feel that our souls have been merged together,” Nima wrote in a 2014 statement to his immigration agent. “Now that I have Ashkan in my life, I no longer feel I am wandering alone in the wilderness.”
Under Nauru’s draconian 1899 penal code, sex between men is considered a crime “against the order of nature”. Before their release from the camp into the local community, an Australian immigration lawyer informed Nima and Ashkan that – for their own safety – they would have to hide their sexual orientation from the Nauruan government. The same lawyer presented them with a form acknowledging the criminality of their relationship and undertaking to conceal their homosexuality, which the couple refused to sign.
This incredible episode recalls a 2003 case, in which an Australian Refugee Review Tribunal initially determined that a queer couple should simply return to Bangladesh and avoid persecution by exercising “discretion”. Upon appeal, the Australian High Court found that it was unreasonable to expect gay men to live in a country where they were vulnerable to state-sanctioned homophobia.