Human Rights

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Persecuted Gay Poet Arrives in Israel as Iranian Regime Jails Another Prominent Artist

Payam Feili, an openly gay Iranian poet who faced intense persecution in his country over his sexual orientation and political views, arrived in Israel this Sunday to promote the Hebrew translation of his book Three Reasons and attend the premier of a play based on the work, The Times of Israel reported.

The poet seemed be enjoying his visit, calling Israel “the best place on Earth and the most beautiful.” He was granted an entry permit to the country last week.

Feili has long affirmed his support for the Jewish state and praised its tolerant attitude towards sexual minorities, a stance that partially led to his repeated imprisonment in Iran. During his last detention, Feili was tortured and confined to a shipping container for 44 days, according to The Daily Beast.

He was at home alone when three bearded men forced their way into his house, wrapped him in tape, blindfolded him, and brought him to a garden where he was kept in a shipping container. “What is your connection with Israel?” they demanded during interrogations. “How much are they paying you?” He was fed twice a day, but says he was subjected to psychological torture. They would strip him naked, take pictures, and insult him, calling him a faggot. These were the last days of his life, they said, and he believed them.

Feili’s family, friends, and colleagues were frequently threatened for associating with him. This relentless harassment forced the poet to flee to neighboring Turkey in 2014, where he has been living ever since.

Artists and intellectuals are routinely subject to persecution in Iran. On Monday, the Iranian regime detained poet and songwriter Yaghma Golrouee for unspecified reasons, according to an online Iranian news outlet cited by the Associated Press. Golrouee, whose work features social commentary and reflections on love, recently criticized authorities for barring his books from publication.

In October, the AP reported that the regime arrested and sentenced two Iranian poets to 99 lashes each “for shaking hands with members of the opposite sex.” The AP added that at least 30 journalists were imprisoned in Iran at the end of 2014, including The Washington Post‘s Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian, who was sentenced to prison after being convicted of espionage in a widely-criticized secret trial.

Last month, after the regime’s arrest of five Iranian journalists, United Nations officials warned that “The government of Iran should not silence critical or dissenting voices under the guise of vague and unsubstantiated national security concerns.”

[Photo: עידוא דגן / YouTube ]