ARI SHAPIRO, Host:
NPR's Peter Kenyon spoke with one young gay Iranian who has left his home country for Turkey.
PETER KENYON: It was an odd moment in President Ahmadinejad's 2007 U.S. visit, when he denied the existence of gay Iranians.
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: (Through translator) In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
AHMADINEJAD: We don't have that in our country.
KENYON: But Ramin Haghjoo, a slender 25-year-old with a red streak in his long curly hair, still laughs when he recalls the incident. His smile vanishes, however, when he talks about what it's like to live as a gay man in Iran. In an Istanbul cafe, Haghjoo spoke of friends estranged from their families, living in fear and depression, wondering if their future holds prison or worse.
RAMIN HAGHJOO: (Through translator) It's really hard. We live our lives, but in secret. You never know when the authorities will come after you. At the moment, there's a kid named Ebrahim Hamidi. They're planning to execute him. It's so easy for that to happen these days.
KENYON: Haghjoo came to Turkey in May, fully intending to return to Tehran and his family. But now he's applying for asylum to the United States, and says he can't go back as long as this government holds power. He says he would face arrest, not just for his sexuality, but for taking part in the protests that rocked Iran in 2009 after the elections - attacked as fraudulent - that returned Ahmadinejad to power.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHANTING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
KENYON: Haghjoo says a week after the election, he and some friends took to the streets, and he remembers feeling excited and happy to see the crowds protesting the election results - right up until the moment he was shot.
HAGHJOO: (Through translator) I remember seeing a woman crossing the alley and a Basij militiaman aiming his gun at her. I shouted and she ran back. And then I noticed the Basiji was now aiming at us. I started to turn away when I heard the shot. I was on the ground, I couldn't breathe, cold sweat was pouring off me. People carried me into a house. I pulled up my shirt and saw something that looked like my intestine sticking out. After about a half hour, a guy knocked at the door and said, I have a van.
KENYON: Haghjoo says he escaped the notice of the security forces until this May when he was visiting Turkey. The previous fall he had agreed to be part of a friend's documentary about Iran's gay community and the opposition Green movement. While he was in Turkey, Voice of America interviewed him and broadcast a part of the documentary in which he talked about being shot during the protests and about Ahmadinejad's views on homosexuality. The next day, he was told, security forces raided his house in Tehran and took his father for questioning. Haghjoo went straight to the U.N. refugee agency and applied for asylum.
HAGHJOO: (Through translator) I realized I can never go back until the government changes. So, I'm trying to find somewhere I can fight for the rights of Iranians.
KENYON: Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SHAPIRO: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.