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Gay life was much easier under Saddam Hussein, harrowing Radio 5 Live documentary finds

Aasmah Mir (image: BBC/Karl Grant)

The ability of gay people in Iraq to live relatively freely has been severely curtailed following the toppling of Saddam Hussein, a documentary on BBC Radio 5 Live has found.

In Gay Life After Saddam, Aasmah Mir finds out how life for the country's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community (LGBT) has got much worse since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Human rights campaigners claim hundreds of LGBT people have been killed or tortured while others have fled the country fearing for their safety since Saddam was toppled from power six years ago.

Meanwhile, in the UK, gay Iraqis seeking asylum are struggling to persuade authorities to let them stay.

Through some harrowing testimonies, Aasmah hears from campaigners and those who've been persecuted to see how life has actually changed for gay Iraqis.

Producer Ashley Byrne says: "The programme includes an interview with a gay Iraqi who was kidnapped and raped before fleeing the country, we hear from a young man who fled to Paris after being tortured and we get exclusive access to a so-called 'safe house' harbouring vulnerable LGBT Iraqis on the outskirts of Baghdad."

Ashley adds: "Some of the evidence is very difficult to comprehend especially a form of torture involving glue and diarrhoea-inducing drugs."

Presenter Aasmah Mir also meets a London-based Iraqi whose life is under threat for the work he's doing to help gay people in his homeland.

Ali Hilli (a pseudonym) claims he has had two fatwas issued against him from extremists in the Middle East.

Co-Producer Gail Champion says: "What becomes clear throughout is that not one person, one group or another is responsible for this persecution. It seems like it's chaos in Iraq with the authorities struggling to keep control.

"What surprised me more than anything was how much life was easier for LGBT people under Saddam Hussein."

Radio 5 Live Commissioning Editor Jonathan Wall said: "This important programme raises issues about human rights and tells some stories seldom heard in the general narrative from Iraq.

"It's a moving and powerful documentary."

The programme also includes interviews with the Iraqi Prime Minister, religious leaders and ordinary people on the streets of Baghdad where homosexuality is still viewed by many as an illness and something that needs treatment.

Throughout, the programme asks what the West should do and it includes reaction from the White House and the Foreign Office in London.

Gay Life After Saddam is produced by Ashley Byrne and Gail Champion and is a Made in Manchester Production for BBC Radio 5 Live.

Gay Life After Saddam, BBC Radio 5 Live, 7.00-8.00pm, Sunday 5 July 2009

Notes to Editors

A selection of audio clips from the programme are available for review upon request.

AB

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