Taim, a 24-year-old medical student, has shared his heartbreaking story to the BBC detailing how he managed to narrowly escape death at the hands of ISIS and his family in Iraq for being gay.
The Islamic State (IS or Isis) has a special punishment for gay men – they throw them blindfolded off the tallest buildings in front of large crowds.
This is the story of how he escaped this horrific fate by fleeing from Iraq to Lebanon.
I first realised I was gay when I was about 13 or 14. I too thought homosexuality was a sickness and I just wanted to feel normal.
During my first year of college, I started having therapy for it. My therapist told me to tell friends that I was going through a “difficult phase” and to ask for their support.
I’m of Muslim background but my ex-boyfriend was from a Christian background and I had a bunch of Christian friends, whom I used to hang out with. In 2013 I got into a fight with a fellow student, Omar – who later joined Isis – about hanging out with Christians. A friend of mine told him to go easy on me because I was going through a hard time, having treatment for being gay. That’s how people knew. I think my friend’s intention was noble but what happened as a result ruined my life.
In November 2013, Omar attacked me with two of his friends. I was just walking home after a really lovely day. They beat me, threw me to the ground and shaved my head, saying to me: “This is just a lesson to you for the moment, because your father is a religious man. Watch what you do!” He meant that I wouldn’t be killed then and there out of respect for my dad, because I’m from a religious family.
I left town for a few days and didn’t go to university but then I went back, and in March 2014 I made Omar angry again, this time by suggesting that non-Muslims shouldn’t have to pay the “jizya”, the tax paid by non-Muslims to a Muslim government. I was washing my hands in the university bathroom when he and others attacked me again. They came at me from behind, but I recognised one of them from his green watch. It was the same group. They kicked me half-unconscious. I was barely able to walk and stopped going to university for a month.
Then, in the middle of final exams, Isis took over. Omar called me and asked me to repent and join them. I hung up the phone.
On 4 July, a group of fighters from Isis came to my home. My father answered the door and apparently they said to him: “Your son is an infidel and a homosexual and we have come to carry out God’s punishment on him.”
My dad is a religious man and luckily for me he was able to tell them to come back the next day, to give him time to find out whether the accusation was correct. He came inside the house and started screaming. Finally, he said: “If these accusations are true, I will hand you over to them myself, happily.” And I just stood there, not knowing what to do and what to say, or how to defend myself.
I was in shock. But my mother decided that I should leave the house immediately, and she started working on getting me out of Iraq for good. It was midnight and she said to me: “We’re leaving right now.” She took me to her sister’s house. The next day she booked me a plane ticket to Turkey and got me a visa. But I had to travel via Erbil and they wouldn’t let us into Kurdistan. I stayed in a village near Erbil for two weeks, trying to get in but I never managed it. I tried to leave via Baghdad but there were clashes on the road and the driver wouldn’t go on. I tried to get out so many times, and failed.
Eventually, in August, after weeks in hiding, my mum arranged somehow for me to get to Kirkuk, driving there through fields and on unpaved roads. From there, I went to Sulaymaniyah. I’d planned to go to Turkey but the first available flight was to Beirut and I didn’t need a visa – so here I am.
If I’d stayed, Isis would have come for me and killed me the way they’ve killed others. If Isis didn’t get me, members of my family would have done it. A few days after I left, I learned that my uncle – my father’s brother – had taken an oath to cleanse the family honour.
Recently, I received an anonymous Facebook message – but my mother thinks it was from my uncle. It said: “I know you’re in Beirut. Even if you went to hell, I would follow you there.”
All I want now is to be in a safe place, unreachable by my dad or anyone with extremist thoughts. I want to be safe, to be free, and to be myself – to get my degree and start living… I just want to start living.
Human rights lawyers from the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project have helped me get refugee status and are working on getting me resettled in another country, where I want to continue my studies. Here I’m living in one room, the size of my bathroom back home. I’m in limbo.
I think I will recover eventually but there will always be a memory of this dark period when I literally had to run for my life to avoid being killed. It was very stressful, but luckily I made it.
I’ve lost contact with most of my family. A month after I fled, my younger brother sent me a Facebook message saying: “I have had to leave town. The family is shattered and it’s all because of you.”
Continue reading Taim’s harrowing story at the BBC.com