PRAGUE, Czech Republic — The Czech Republic defended its "testing" of the homosexuality of gay asylum seekers Wednesday after the European Union's leading human rights agency condemned it for the controversial practice.
The "phallometric testing" is only conducted after the asylum seekers have consented and when it is not possible to verify a person's sexual orientation through other means, said Czech Interior Ministry spokesman Pavel Novak, according to news reports. It has been used in fewer than 10 asylum cases, he said.
The test, which is performed by a sexologist, consists of showing the homosexual asylum seeker heterosexual pornography while measuring his "physical reaction," according to the report by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.
It is performed when the authorities doubt the credibility of men who are seeking asylum in the Czech Republic because they would be persecuted for their sexual orientation in their home country.
(Ironically, as GlobalPost has reported, most of the actors in Prague’s booming gay porn industry are heterosexual. )
"We're talking about quite an intrusive examination, which can interfere with a person's psychological integrity, and also with the core of a person's intimacy, which is likely to raise feelings of shame," said Matteo Bonini-Baraldi, the author of the 68-page report, which examines discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in all 27 EU member states.
"Let's not forget that asylum seekers come from countries of origin where homosexuality, or a gay identity, is also already strongly stigmatized, both by society and by law," he added.
Martin Rozumek, the director of Czech NGO Organization for Aid to Refugees, said in the last two years his organization has acted as a legal representative to three people — two men and a woman — in their bid to avoid the phallometric testing. All three underwent the testing in the end, and were granted asylum. He said that they all refused to take legal action against the authorities for fear that they would be denied asylum.
"The two men, yes, they felt ashamed. They felt ashamed. It goes too much into their privacy, and, in addition, both of them were Muslim. Both were from Iran," he said.
He added that both had been convicted of "perverse activity" in Iran — a country whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has claimed does not have any homosexuals at all — and had police reports from the convictions to show to authorities as proof of their homosexuality. They were still, however, asked to undergo the test.
"Where the claim to asylum or to subsidiary protection will be rejected unless some consent is given, the notion of free consent becomes meaningless," Bonini-Baraldi wrote in the report.
The Czech Republic is the only EU member-state discovered to use phallometric testing. The practice was brought to light when a German court refused to refer the case of a gay Iranian asylum seeker to Czech authorities based on the possible use of the testing.
In the report, Bonini-Baraldi raised the question of whether the testing violates the European Court of Human Rights' prohibition of torture and inhumane or degrading treatment. He defines degrading as arousing in its victims "feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority capable of humiliating and debasing them and possibly breaking their physical or moral resistance."
"Even if there is not physical pain, still the intrusion into a most intimate, personal sphere could be quite problematic," he said.
Regardless of whether the state’s use of the test on asylum seekers violates their fundamental rights, an academic who has used it said it is not a reliable way to determine the subject’s sexual orientation.
Ivo Prochazka, a sexologist at the Institute of Sexology in Prague, dismissed the Czech authorities' use of the test as "irrational."
"Sometimes it can be reliable but sometimes not," he said. "Each result can be very different and it must be compared with a sexual examination. It cannot be done independently."
He said that people generally have some sexual arousal to any nude image, regardless of whether they are actually sexually attracted to the person in the image. He said the key to accurate testing is comparing the amount a person is aroused to their own gender as compared to the opposite sex. The phallometric testing machine, which is attached to a man's genitals, measures small erectile changes to determine the man's level of sexual arousal.
He added that if a person is under psychological pressure or stress the test is only about 40 percent accurate. Even if it is performed in a comfortable environment it is only about 70 percent accurate, he said, which is why it can't be considered a conclusive method of determining sexual orientation.
He said that in his practice he occasionally uses phallometric testing to aid sexually-confused individuals in understanding their gender preference, and the test is also occasionally used in court cases to determine pedophilia or sexual aggression.
He added that in his practice he primarily uses visual stimuli of naked men or women, and would only progress to images of people having sexual intercourse if the initial images were not producing results. "Nothing erotic," he said.