Two Iranian LGBTQ+ activists have been sentenced to death, according to international human rights groups. The sentences are the latest in a series of executions of LGBTQ+ people by the Iranian government.
On September 6, a court in the city of Urmia found two women, 31-year-old Zahra Seddiqi Hamedani and 24-year-old Elham Choubdar, guilty of “corruption on Earth,” as the BBC reports. That charge is frequently brought against those who have violated morality laws or are accused of “undermining the state,” according to Bloomberg.
While the Iran’s official news agency made no reference to their activism, human rights groups say that Hamedani and Choubdar were accused of “promoting homosexuality,” “promoting Christianity” and “communicating with the media opposing the Islamic Republic.” While the country confirmed the death sentences, authorities claimed that they were connected to human trafficking rather than activism.
Reports claim that Hamedani was initially detained in October 2021 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps while attempting to seek asylum in Turkey. According to the global human rights organization Amnesty International, she was subsequently “forcibly disappeared” until January 2022, when she was brought before the Office of the Revolutionary and Public Prosecutor.
The charges stemmed allegedly from speaking out about LGBTQ+ rights on social media, as well as Hamedani’s participation in a BBC program about LGBTQ+ people in Kurdistan. She was previously detained in 2021 for appearing on the show.
Prior to her departure for Turkey, Hamedani sent several videos to the Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network (6Rang). She asked for the footage to be released in the event that she were detained, in order to raise awareness about her situation. In the videos, she describes how she was kept in solitary confinement during her previous period of detention and forced to undergo electric shocks in an attempt to cure her sexual orientation.
“I want to make you understand, to see how much we are suffering as the LGBTQ+ community,” she says in the video. “And we resist to the end for our feelings. Whether with death or freedom, we will remain true to ourselves. I hope that the day will come when we can all live freely in our own country.”
Under Iranian law, homosexuality is currently illegal. The penalty for men is death, while women are subjected to whipping (although those with repeated offences can potentially be subjected to the death penalty as well). Iran is one of at least eight countries with laws that prescribe capital punishment for gay sex, and others include Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Sudan.
A gay man was executed under sodomy charges in Iran as recently as July of this year, according to The Jerusalem Post. And in 2021, a gay couple were hanged on charges of “adultery” after family members called for the execution.
Human rights groups have noted that the country’s execution rate is one of the highest in the world. The U.N.’s independent investigator on human rights in Iran recently warned that the country was executing prisoners at an “alarming rate,” with at least 246 executions carried out in the last year alone, according to Amnesty International.