Outrage has greeted a comment by Iranian President Ahmadinejad that there are no homosexuals in his country.

On Monday, during a controversial talk at Columbia University’s World Leaders Forum in the US, Iranian President Dr. Mahmood Ahmadinejad categorically denied the existence of homosexuality in Iran in response to a question from an audience member concerning Iran’s documented abuse of homosexuals and women:

“In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country…. We don’t have that in our country,” he said in response to a question about the rights of homosexuals.

Paula Ettelbrick, Executive Director at The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) expressed dismay at the response. “It is extremely unfortunate that the President of Iran, who used a prestigious academic forum to speak the “truth” about his country, nevertheless spoke so disingenuously about the human rights situation in Iran,” said Ettelbrick.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese also responded to Ahmadinejad’s comments: “Today’s assertions by President Ahmadinejad that there are no homosexuals in Iran would be simply absurd were it not for the fact that international human rights watchers have long documented some of the most horrific acts of persecution and violence committed against gay people in Iran. These acts of terror have included incarcerations, beatings, and brutal executions. Ahmadinejad’s denial that there are gay people in Iran shows the extent to which he devalues the lives of the many citizens his government has and continues to violate.”

IGLHRC expressed its gratitude to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger and to the moderator, Professor Coatsworth of the forum, for addressing the issue of LGBT rights in Iran.

“This was the first time that a sitting Iranian president had been confronted with a question about the mistreatment of the LGBT community in a public forum,” said the organisation.

It defended the controversial decision to provide President Ahmadinejad with a public forum: “The sceptical laughter that President Ahmadinejad’s response provoked from the audience suggests that it was far from convincing. This underscores the value of freedom of speech – the basis of all other human rights – for holding governments accountable for their actions.”

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