updated 3/28/2006 9:52:24 AM ET 2006-03-28T14:52:24

Fears that Iraqi captors might harm a Canadian hostage if they knew he was gay forced his partner to remain silent as loved ones called for an end to the ordeal, a director from the freed hostage’s aid group said Monday.

During his four months of captivity, James Loney’s sexuality was kept out of the media at the request of his family, said Doug Pritchard, co-director of the aid group Christian Peacemaker Teams.

“It’s a sad fact that around the world gays and lesbians are more vulnerable to attack than straights,” Pritchard said. “When Jim was already in a vulnerable position we didn’t, nor did his family, want him exposed to further danger.”

On Sunday, Loney’s return home was marked by an emotional welcome at Toronto’s international airport attended by friends, family and his partner, Dan Hunt. While family members made appeals for Loney’s release during his hostage ordeal, the homecoming marked the first time Hunt appeared publicly.

Gay, lesbian rights unclear
In 2001, Amnesty International reported that Iraq’s constitution was amended to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. Although the constitution reverted back to the original 1969 document when Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled in 2003, the status of gay and lesbian rights remain unclear.

Loney, 41, a peace activist with Christian Peacemaker Teams, was kidnapped off the streets of Baghdad on Nov. 26 along with fellow Canadian Harmeet Sooden, 33, Briton Norm Kember, 74, and American Tom Fox, 54.

Fox’s bullet-ridden body was found dumped on the streets of Baghdad on March 9.

Last Thursday, coalition soldiers raided an otherwise empty house near Baghdad and rescued Loney, Sooden and Kember.

“We expect James to arrive in Sault Ste. Marie with Dan in the next few days,” said his brother Matt, who also arrived Monday in the family’s hometown in Ontario. “We look forward to celebrating with family, with our friends ... We are preparing a safe and loving place for James to arrive.”

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