President George W. Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may not agree on much, but tragically they may find common ground about the disposability of Hassan Parhizkar’s life.
Since November 7, a mild-mannered 40-year-old gay Iranian businessman from Rockville, Maryland has been sitting in jail in the Frederick County, Maryland Detention Center, housed with common criminals, in the living hell of limbo between the freedom he has known since he came to the United States as a young man 17 years ago and the certain persecution, imprisonment, or worse that will be his fate as a gay man if he is sent back to Iran.
A deportation order to send him back to Iran has been issued, and any day he could be put on a plane back to Tehran, where he was born.
"I am very afraid, and so very frustrated," Hassan Parhizkar told me in a truncated, collect telephone call from jail.
"My asylum request has never been before an immigration judge. I just don’t know what to do, I just don’t know what to do…" he added in a voice choked with tears.
"I work hard, I pay my taxes, and I live a quiet life without bothering anybody," Parhizkar told this reporter.
Parhizkar was arrested out of the blue earlier this month during a routine visit to an immigration office. He and his attorney explained that for the past five years he fully observed the terms of a supervised probation that stemmed from a 1999 deportation order, of which he was unaware until 2002 because he had the bad fortune of hiring, back in 1992, a man fraudulently presenting himself as a licensed attorney to pursue an asylum claim. And those five years of waiting were years of unspeakable dread.
Parhizkar said he has never been a burden on US taxpayers. When he came to this country, he joined his much older brother, who had emigrated to the US at the age of 17 and eventually opened a used car sales and repair business in which Parhizkar worked.
"My brother came to the US before the [1979 theocratic] revolution in Iran, and was completely Americanized, so he accepted me as I was, and never had an issue with my being gay," Parhizkar told this reporter. "When my brother died, sadly, in 2003, he left the entire business to me. I also own the property on which it is located."
Hassan Parhizkar’s legal troubles began in 1992, when he began an effort to win asylum here. Tragically, he fell into the hands of an unscrupulous con man who preyed on immigrants by pretending to be an attorney, when in fact he wasn’t. The fraud artist sabotaged Parhizkar’s asylum request while taking his money.
"In March 1992, Hassan hired what he believed to be an immigration attorney by the name of Mehdi Hashemi to represent him in his asylum case," Parhizkar’s current attorney, Parastoo G. Zahedi of Vienna, Virginia, told me. Zahedi, an immigration lawyer since 1989, chairs the Washington, DC chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
According to Zahedi, the con man, Hashemi, who also uses the name Mike Milani, worked out of an area law firm.
"However," said Zahedi, "it has since become widely known in the Iranian community and among licensed attorneys that Mr. Hashemi is not in fact a licensed attorney and has misrepresented himself as such for years to the immigrant community."
Zahedi said that, "Unfortunately, Mr. Parhizkar never received any notices from Mr. Hashemi with regard to any hearings at the asylum office which had scheduled an interview in 1996. Hassan was simply kept in the dark, despite his having advised his so-called attorney of his change of address.
"He never received any correspondence on his case and was without knowledge of any hearing dates in immigration court," Zahedi said.
In late 1999, an immigration judge ordered Parhizkar removed from the U.S. in absentia.
Parhizkar only learned of the deportation order during a routine police traffic stop in Fairfax, Virginia in February 2001, when his name was run through the computers and the order for his removal discovered.
He was jailed by the old Immigration and Naturalization Service for seven months and 10 days.
Parhizkar was released on September 25, 2001 after the Iranian government refused to issue travel documents to him. It was at that point that he was placed on supervised probation, one condition of which was that he report in person once a month to the Baltimore District Office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the new combined INS-Customs Service entity the Bush administration created post-9/11. On its website, ICE bills itself as "the largest investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)."
Parhizkar’s new lawyer, Zahedi, insisted, "Hassan has always complied fully with every condition imposed on the Release Order — and in fact it was during one of Hassan’s routine reporting visits into the ICE Baltimore office at which, just weeks ago on November 7, he was arrested and ordered jailed in the Frederick County Detention Center."
Zahedi has only represented Parhizkar for the past few weeks and is preparing briefs to demand that the deportation be stopped.
A key argument will be that Parhizkar was the "victim of ineffective assistance of counsel" at the hands of Hashemi.
"Many immigration practitioners in the Washington metropolitan area also know of Mr. Hashemi’s reputation for misrepresenting himself as a licensed attorney and ruining the lives of many past clients," explained Zahedi, who said Hashemi has now left Washington area.
But Zahedi emphasized that beyond the normal asylum petition route, Parhizkar has an equally strong case for having his deportation voided under the international Convention on Torture, of which the U.S. is a signatory.
And it is here that Parhizkar’s previous history of persecution in Iran becomes relevant.
"Life as a gay person in Iran is a nightmare," Parhizkar said in an affidavit to the immigration authorities.
"My first homosexual experience occurred when I was 14 years old. A member of the Revolutionary Guard started a relationship with me that became sexual. This man’s name is Jaber Mortezaee. I was lost, young, and very naïve when the relationship started. I was confused and scared to talk to anybody about this development. But this man had power over me, and I stayed in this relationship for many years.
"In August 1990, several years after the start of my relationship with Jaber Mortezaee, government agents from the morality police arrested me… While I was in detention, the government agents questioned me about my relationship with Jaber Mortezaee. They beat me constantly and threatened to keep me in prison for the rest of my life or kill me. Every part of my body was in pain, and I passed out from several of the beatings."
After three days of this brutal torture, Parhizkar was released, but the police asked Sepah Pasdaran, the Iranian government’s security and investigation agency, to continue an investigation.
"I believe the morality police wanted to accuse Jaber Mortezaee of immorality and anti-government activities, but only the Sepah Pasdaran are authorized to question a Revolutionary Guard," Parhizkar said.
"After my release," he continued, "I could not explain my disappearance or my beaten body to my family or friends. But I told Jaber Mortezaee about the interrogation, and he advised me to escape Iran, which I did with his help and that of my father."
"I last had contact with Jaber in 1993 in a telephone call from Dubai, where he had moved shortly after he left Iran."
For the last ten years, Parhizkar has been in a stable relationship with an Iranian American who is a U.S. citizen and works for a Maryland state agency.
"He is married," he told this reporter, "but his wife doesn’t know about our relationship, although she is very nice to me.
"We are not out either as gay or as a couple except to a very few close friends. The attitude of the Iranian exile community here in the US toward gay people is very hard, they are very much against it. If they find out you are, you are not welcome in the community."
But, Parhizkar said, "our relationship is a very good one. I’m not the kind to go out on the town and go crazy. We spend quiet time together, or go on trips to Florida where we have gay Iranian friends. It’s very nice, we are very close and can talk about everything. It’s the best relationship I’ve had in my life."
Arsham Parsi, the gay Iranian exile who is the executive director of the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO), now headquartered in Toronto, told me that the group has launched an online petition campaign to try to stop Parhizkar’s deportation back to Iran.
The petition says in part:
"IRQO is deeply concerned that Hassan Parhizkar would be subject to torture and would face the death penalty upon his deportation to Iran on account of his homosexuality. The US Government’s action in deporting Mr. Parhizkar to Iran is clearly prohibited by the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (known as CAT) ratified by the United States in 1992, and by congressionally enacted policy giving effect to CAT. As the United States Congress made clear, it is the policy of the United States not to:
"Expel, extradite, or otherwise effect the involuntary return of any person to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture…"
Emphasizing the continuing danger to Iranian LGBT people from the Ahmadinejad government, Parsi told Gay City News this week that within the last few days he had received multiple emails from some of the 87 people who were arrested at what authorities charged was a "gay party" in the city of Esfahan on May 10.
Police and the thuggish Basiji, a parapolice under control of the Revolutionary Guards, had severely beaten those arrested, sending a number of them to hospital. (For a complete account, see this reporter’s May 24 article, "ln Brutal Raid, Iran Arrests 87, Jails 17".)
Those who had originally been released without bail, Parsi told me in a telephone interview from Toronto, started being re-arrested last week and subjected to muscular interrogations designed to extract from them the names of other homosexuals they know.
"They showed several of those re-arrested huge albums of photographs of people, and were asked to name their names and their relationships and their activities," Parsi said. "Those arrested who were shown these albums recognized most of the faces as gay people.The amount of information the police and the Basiji have assembled on gay people is simply staggering, judging by these dossiers."
Some of those re-arrested have been given sentences of 80 lashes in the last ten days, although ostensibly for drinking alcohol.
"They were told by the judge in court that they were arrested and condemned for being queer, but the authorities don’t want to say that in public, so they use the alcohol charge," Parsi said.
If you wish to protest Hassan Parhizkar ‘s threatened deportation from the U.S., sign the online IRQO petition on his behalf at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/irqo-hassan/. Organizations wishing to join the campaign to stop Parhizkar’s deportation should contact his lawyer, Parastoo G. Zahedim, by e-mail at [email protected], by phone at 703-448-0111, or by fax at 703-448-5552.
Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article appeared November 28, 2007. It was written for Gay City News — New York’s largest lesbian and gay weekly newspaper.