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Iran: Is There An Anti-Homosexual Campaign?

Mahmud Asgari (left) and Ayaz Marhoni before being publicly hanged on 9 July By Fatemeh Aman and Bill Samii

According to Islamic law, homosexuality is a capital crime. The execution of two Iranian males in July and current allegations that two more Iranian men are on death row because they are gay has led to allegations of an anti-homosexual campaign in Iran. But homosexuality is just part of the laundry list of charges leveled against people caught up in the Iranian justice system, and in a country with such a reprehensible human rights record, the actual charges rarely have a connection with reality.

Some legal punishments in Iran, such as the amputation of limbs and stoning, even when not universally enforced, are frequently commented on and condemned by human rights activists. Iran, furthermore, has one of the highest rates of capital punishment in the world. Islam condemns homosexuality and, according to Iranian law, sodomy between consenting adults is a capital crime.
According to some sources of Islamic law, Ismailian said, the punishments for homosexuality include being thrown from a mountain, immolation, or execution by sword.

Several recent cases have garnered a great deal of attention in this regard, but they appear to be overshadowed by concern over the execution of minors. The freshest allegations are that a homosexual was executed in the city of Arak in mid-August, and that two more men there are awaiting execution on similar charges.

Arak prosecutor Hamzeh Pakbin denied these reports on 28 August, ISNA and Islamic Republic News Agency reported, and he described two current cases that may be related to the allegations. He said Ahmad Choqa, who is 25 and worked as a taxi driver, took a 22-year-old male passenger at knifepoint to his home, and he and two confederates kept the man there from midnight until 9 a.m. During this time they allegedly raped the man. The 22-year-old man escaped and made it to the police, who subsequently arrested Choqa and his cohorts. Choqa has a lengthy criminal record that includes fighting with police, drinking, rape, highway robbery, and petty theft. The only "criminal" behavior on his record that could relate to his sexual preference is, according to the Arak official, sexual relations with a man (lavat in Persian) and "tajavoz be onf" (rape). He has not been sentenced yet.

The other case relates to the 25-year-old Mahbod Kurd Afshar, who stabbed somebody to death, was sentenced to six years in prison in 2002 and has served three years of his sentence, according to Pakbin.

In July 2005, two males -- one of them reportedly a minor -- were hanged after being found guilty of raping a 13-year-old boy. However, exile sources claimed that the execution of the two, Mahmud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, related to their engagement in homosexual activities. Human Rights Watch, in a 27 July letter to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, expressed concern with the execution of juvenile offenders, but did not refer to any other aspect of the case.

In an earlier case, Mohammad Bijeh was accused of killing 20 boys in the poor neighborhood of Pakdasht in Karaj near Tehran. Many of the victims were poor Afghans and their families, some of whom were immigrants who feared deportation, did not bring any charges against Bijeh. Nevertheless, Bijeh was convicted for raping and killing 16 children and was hanged on 16 March. His accomplice, Ali Gholampur (aka Ali Baqi), was flogged and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Tehran-based lawyer Farideh Ghayrat is a prominent human-rights advocate and the spokeswoman for the Association for the Defense of Prisoners Rights. She also is the lawyer for the families of the victims in the latter legal case. While she is not an advocate of the death penalty, she noted the inconsistency of the legal system and questioned why just one of the defendants was executed. Ghayrat told Radio Farda that there is no reason for Ali Baqi not to be executed ( Even if all the killings he was involved in are ignored, the numerous rapes of boys -- lavat in other words -- are inexcusable, according to the lawyer.

A different perspective, and one that seem to reflect the official attitude, came from Shahpur Ismailian, a lawyer and retired judge in Iran. Even if the victims' families in the Pakdasht case had not filed complaints, he said, the charge of homosexuality would have justified the death penalty for Ali Baqi, "Hamshahri" reported on 16 October 2004. According to some sources of Islamic law, Ismailian said, the punishments for homosexuality include being thrown from a mountain, immolation, or execution by sword.

Official Iranian sources occasionally express hostility to homosexual practices. A state radio commentary on 7 March 2005 criticized gay marriages in Western countries. Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini said in his Friday-prayer sermon in Qom that gay and lesbian marriages reflect a weakness of Western culture, state television reported on 13 July 2002. Ayatollah Ali Meshkini in his Friday-prayer sermon in Qom criticized the German Green Party for being pro-homosexual, state television reported on 29 April 2000.

It is clear that officially and in practice, there is discrimination against homosexuals in Iran. However, systematic repression of homosexuals does not seem to be an issue. The most recent cases of capital punishment for homosexuality are connected with rapes, but the official terminology, Iran's system of retribution as a form of Islamic punishment (qesas), and the country's terrible human-rights record make it very difficult to determine the true nature of a so-called crime.

See also:

"UN, Human Rights Groups Call On Tehran To End Executions Of Minors"