Hashim al-Asimi, a 20-year-old Yemeni, was heading home last Monday night when two men on a motorbike approached and shot him dead.
Drive-by killings involving unlicensed motorbikes are a regular occurrence in Yemen and usually they are blamed on militants linked to al-Qaeda. Mostly, these attacks are directed against members of the security forces but Asimi’s killing was different. According to police and witnesses, he died because he was thought to be gay.
A few days later another man, 25-year-old Mohammed Saeed, wasshot and wounded while reportedly standing outside his home. According to a security official, he too had been accused of homosexuality.
Both attacks happened in the same town, Houta in the southern province of Lahij.
Details of the attacks are sketchy but a CNN correspondent in Yemen, citing witnesses who knew Asimi, said militants had “warned him to stop his homosexual activity at least twice previously” and threatened to kill him if he did not.
According to these witnesses, “not everyone knew Asimi was gay” and “he was not in a relationship”.
CNN also quoted a local security official as saying: "Many extremists live in Lahij, and being gay is unacceptable to nearly everyone in the province."
According to the official, it was two hours before security forces found Asimi’s body. A crowd had gathered at the scene but nobody called the police.
There are similarities here with the vigilante killings in Iraq of men who are believed to be gay or not “manly” enough but few incidents of this kind have been reported in Yemen and it is difficult to know how often they occur.
It’s possible that they don’t happen very often but it’s equally possible that some go unreported because of the taboos and shame associated with homosexuality in Yemen.
The most recent report I can find (before last week’s attacks) was in 2008 when three young men were killed by militants in Shabwa province on suspicion of being gay.
Meanwhile, a sloppy report of Asimi’s murder on the Gay Star News website has been causing some confusion among LGBT activists in the region. It claimed that his death “may be the 34th such extrajudicial killing of LGBTs” in Yemen.
The article said Yemeni officials “told the Washinton [sic] Post there had been 33 other gay men killed by the militant group”.
What this refers to is actually a brief item from the Associated Press news feed which appeared on the Washington Post website. The relevant bit of the AP report is ambiguously worded, and says:
“Security officials say at least 33 people have been killed in similar attacks in the past two years. Most of the extrajudicial killings took place in the southern province of Abyan in 2011 when al-Qaida was in control of large swaths of territory.”
It is unclear what the AP report means by “similar attacks”. In the context, it might mean attacks on allegedly gay people but it doesn’t specifically say so. Equally, and perhaps more likely, it could be referring to drive-by shootings in general.
But apparently that didn’t suit Gay Star News, so it changed 33 “people” to 33 “gay men”.
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Monday, 22 July 2013