'Erotic Lie Detector' Used on Gay Asylum Seekers

Authorities in the Czech Republic have been using a supposed erotic lie detector to test whether asylum seekers are falsely claiming to be gay. But the practice has come in for criticism after the EU's human rights agency found out about it.

Masked police officers hustled the condemned man under the construction crane, which had a noose hanging from its hook. "God is great!" the crowd shouted as the crane operator started up the hydraulic system. The man's only crime: being gay.

In Iran, gays and lesbians can be put to death by hanging. Since 1979, the mullah-controlled regime has already executed close to 4,000 of them, usually after convicting them on rape charges.

Fearing just such a fate, two Iranian men, Rahim and Karim (not their real names), fled to Europe in the spring of 2008. They wanted to escape the realm of the mullahs and their morality police as quickly as they could.

The first flight they could get out of Iran was headed to Prague. When they arrived at the city's Ruzyne Airport, they immediately applied for asylum. They claimed that the Iranian police had already been after them in their home city of Zahedan and had ordered them to appear for questioning on charges of "amoral behavior." The men had even brought along the police summons.

But for the Czech authorities, it would seem that the summons was not enough to prove that Rahim and Karim were genuinely gay and in danger. And in the back of their minds, they might have been thinking of the thousands of Czechs who had managed to get out of having to perform military service during the communist era by claiming to be homosexual.

So, the Czech Republic's Interior Ministry sent Rahim and Karim to Dr. Ondrej Trojan, a physician and sex therapist with a practice in Prague's historic city center, for an examination. After asking them a battery of questions, Trojan concluded that the only way to obtain hard evidence was to administer a test using a phallometric device. And faced with either having their erections measured or being deported, the two Iranians had little choice but to consent.

'Erotic Lie Detector' Used on Gay Iranians Seeking Asylum Rahim and Karim were then subjected to a method that psychiatrist Kurt Freund first started developing in Prague in the 1950s. At the time, the technique was used as part of an effort to "cure" gay men and lesbians of their tendencies. Only after years of research did Freund realize that homosexuality is not a disease. And, partly as a result of his work, Czechoslovakia decriminalized homosexuality in 1961.

Still, Freund's invention remained: the "penile plethysmograph," a supposed erotic lie detector that measures changes in blood flow to the penis. Newer versions of these devices are even capable of measuring the reactions of female sex organs. For example, one was used on a woman from Cameroon who had also applied for asylum in Prague after claiming to have been persecuted in her home country over her sexual orientation.

One at a time, Rahim and Karim were asked to sit down on a sofa in Dr. Trojan's examination room. The doctor instructed them to put a metal cuff on their penises. A cable connects an electrode in the cuff to a computer, which monitors and analyzes expansion. (The version for women uses a tampon-sized measuring device instead of a cuff.)

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