Czechs to end tests of gay asylum seekers

Phallometry is widely used to determine sexual orientation and deviation.

Prague: The Czech Republic will no longer require gay asylum seekers to undergo arousal tests to prove that they are homosexual after facing criticism that the procedure is humiliating, an official has said.

The testing method - known as phallometry - was invented in the 1950s by a Prague-based sexologist. It is widely used today to determine sexual orientation and deviation.

Vladimir Repka, a spokesman for the Czech Interior Ministry, told DPA that the asylum applicants would not be given the test unless they ask for it themselves in order to improve their chances for asylum.

The Vienna-based European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights had slammed the Czech authorities for using the test, in which sexologists measure the sexual arousal of gay and lesbian asylum seekers while they watch straight porn.

The agency argued in a November report that such testing was unreliable and potentially in violation of Article 03 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which bans torture and inhumane treatment.

Although it did not seem to be the Czech authorities intent to humiliate applicants, the procedure was degrading, the report said, as it "involves great exposure of very intimate sexual feelings".

The agency said that the Czech Republic was "the only known" EU country to use the method in asylum proceedings.

Repka said that the ministry stopped the tests earlier this year after an Iranian refugee complained about it to a German court.

"We understand that it could be degrading, and that is why we no longer use it and are not likely to use it in the future," Repka said.

The ministry, however, defended the practice, saying that it had been used in nine cases in recent years after a Czech court suspected that an asylum seeker who had claimed persecution on grounds of sexual orientation was pretending to be homosexual.

The court at that time accepted the test as evidence and the applicant was granted asylum. Eight others who later underwent the test were also granted asylum.

"It can be unpleasant but we had no other way to prove it. The court would have sent him home, where he would be threatened with death," Repka said.

Phallometry was invented by the Czechoslovak sexologist Kurt Freund in the 1950s and has been used globally to help determine either sexual orientation or deviation, sexologist Petr Weiss told DPA.

A device is attached to the genitals, male or female, which measures changes in their size caused by blood inflow. But the method is not fully reliable and forms only part of a sexologist`s examination, he said.

Weiss called the controversy "a storm in a tea cup". "It`s ethically sound when people give consent," he said.

But the question of consent may be tricky in asylum cases.

While the ministry has insisted that the testing was in line with the rights convention because claimants had to give informed consent, groups working with refugees disagree.

Magda Faltova, who heads the Prague-based Association for Integration and Migration, said that her group`s clients signed the paperwork without understanding what they were in for.

She also said that the gay applicants were under pressure to undergo the procedure.

"In no way was their consent informed. We had to explain it to them," she told DPA. "And the question is what would have happened if they had not agreed."