Experts Predict: Iran Will Remain Deadly

Two reports indicate that despite a new president’s overtures to the contrary, Iran will remain a deadly place for LGBTs.

BY Benjamin Weinthal

March 14 2014 5:01 AM ET

Above: Demonstrations against LGBT rights abuses in Iran at the Berlin Pride Celebration (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

With the election last June of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president, there were hopes for a Persian Spring that would improve human rights for the country’s struggling LGBT community. Those hopes have not been borne out.

Two new studies addressing the plight of the LGBT community in the Islamic Republic — and a detailed letter from human rights organizations to Rouhani mandate an alarming conclusion: Iran’s authoritarian regime continues to enforce anti-LGBT repression, and sanctions that reflect lethal homophobia remain codified in law.

Rouhani declared prior to his election victory: “All Iranian people should feel there is justice” and “Long live citizen rights!” His rhetoric proved to be empty.

The United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, published a scathing indictment of violence against LGBT Iranians last October. Under the section headed “Other Forms of Cruel and Inhuman Punishment,” Shaheed chastised Iran’s authorities for meting out the penalty of flogging for “illicit relationships and nonpenetrative homosexual acts.”

Shaheed, widely considered one of the world’s top human rights experts, noted in his report that Iran’s effort to revise its Islamic Penal Code failed to expunge “homosexual acts” from the list of capital offenses.

Shari’a — what is commonly referred to as Islamic law — plays a critical role in the application of punishment, particularly the death penalty, under Iranian law. Shari’a law codifies punishments called hudud, which are applied to a defined set of crimes, including acts of sodomy. Separately, there is a form of punishment labeled ta’zir, to be meted out at a judge’s discretion; this usually includes “other homosexual acts.”

Iranian Islamic law differentiates between passive and active sodomy convictions. A convicted passive partner faces the death penalty, whereas an active partner, if unmarried, may receive 100 lashes. A married active partner faces execution.

The regime vehemently rejects Shaheed’s report. In January, Mullah Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, Rouhani’s justice minister, called Shaheed a “corrupt person.” As deputy intelligence minister, Pour Mohammadi was one of a circle of top officials responsible for the slaughter of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

All this helps explain the bleak outlook for the realization of Rouhani’s promises of reform. “Nothing essential has changed. The structure is still the same. It’s a play, a comic and ugly performance. They’re relying on the naiveté of people to be able to succeed,” the gay Iranian poet Payam Feili said about Rouhani’s administration. Feili’s poetry cannot be published because he is on a blacklist.

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