Last week's arrest of a 28-year old paramedic and father of two, accused of drugging and murdering three gay men in Lahore after connecting with them on a social website, has not brought a sigh of relief to Pakistan's LGBT communities.
After the arrest he confessed to the murders, saying he wanted to send a message about the evils of pedophilia and gay sex. Some activists fear he might be hailed as an “anti-LGBT” hero.
Homosexuality is complicated in Pakistan. Gay sex is illegal in Pakistan, and while the government doesn't overtly target homosexuals and rarely hands down the lengthy jail sentences that are allowed under the law, tolerance for out-of-the-closet homosexuality is low.
In the predominantly Muslim country, gay men and women face social stigma, disapproval, and discrimination in many areas. Some members of the LGBT community embrace their identity and are fighting for rights in Pakistan. But many men choose to live in the closet – they want the wife, kids and societal respect while having casual gay sex on the side.
The accused killer used the self-styled “gay social network” Manjam to connect with his victims, according to a 20-minute long jailhouse interview with Urdu-language Samaa TV, which drew ire online from activists for giving the accused murder a platform. The site is banned in Pakistan, and it has announced it will close its website to nonmembers in Pakistan until further notice.
During the interview, he confessed to the murders and said he was lured and raped when he was in 5th grade by an older student. He says he reported the incident to the police and his school, but the assailant was never charged because he came from a powerful family.
Here are some translated excerpts from the interview in Urdu:
“I have a cause, the evil that is spreading in our society because of these people. They have left the straight path and are ruining other people's lives. It's not because [they are gay out] of necessity. For them gay sex is recreation, they call it a sport activity” [04:13-31]
“Reporter: Did you not feel bad that you killed a living person?” “No, I cleaned the trash [...] But I felt bad for his family members[...] My way was wrong[...]” [08:00-45]
“Because of gay sex lots of injustices are spreading in society. Someone does it with one guy, gets him in the habit then he forces himself on someone else.” [13:35-49]
“I don't think these people are garbage. I think their habits are garbage[...]” [14:45-54]
In response to his confession on Samaa TV, Pakistani LGBT rights activist Hadi Hossain wrote an open letter on Scroll.in, saying the case has unwittingly broken Pakistan's silence over homosexuality:
I want to respond to some things you said on that show. That is important for me because I am part of the “kachra” (garbage), the word you used to describe gay men.
You thought that your actions would instill fear of death in us. Community members initially panicked. Some existing online forums and groups were deleted. But you forgot our undying resilience which has motivated us since childhood. We have been bullied, abused, kicked, mocked, shoved, taunted, punished, violated. All our lives, we have been told by the zealots of this hetero-normative society that we need to change, or live in shame for being who we are, live in constant fear of being discovered and to remain guilty of what we do. What we have faced has been more fearful than death.
An anonymous blogger at Pious Sluts accused Samaa TV of making the accused killer a religious hero on their program:
Have you ever wondered that the guy who killed three other guys is a monster? What’s worst that you made a patient of necrophilia a hero! Wow! I must laud your efforts for actually shifting the blame onto victims. Isn’t it what this society told you? Like we have our national leaders and Islamist barons demanding that if a raped woman cannot bring 4 male eye-witnesses she must keep her silence or die!
The role of the media in Pakistan is often questioned in the debate over gay rights. A few months ago, a TV news reporter invaded the home of a couple, accused the men of having a gay relationship and handed them over to police while calling for tougher laws against homosexuality. The reporter for Samaa TV, however, didn't verbally pass judgement on homosexuality during the interview with the accused killer.
On Twitter, filmmaker Sana Haq observed the impact of the case:
Pakistan isn't ready for this conversation, but here it is regardless, in the form of three dead gay men. http://t.co/JNdqdJFyBt
— Sana Haq (@sanaattiqhaq) April 29, 2014