Prague, 28 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- On 13 November, Tehran's hard-line daily "Kayhan" reported that two young men were hung in a public square in the northern town of Gorgan for the crime of having homosexual relations.
The men, identified only as Mokhtar N. and Ali. A, were both in their mid-20s.
"Kayhan" said the men also had a "criminal past" that included kidnapping, rape, and causing disturbances.
In Iran, where Islamic laws are applied, homosexuality is punishable by death. But proving that a sexual act has happened is not easy and requires the testimony of four adult men.
Hard To Prove
"Iranian courts try not to use execution for these crimes," said Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a spokesman of the Tehran-based Center of Human Rights Defenders, which was founded by Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi. "Such crimes are proven in a very particular processes based on Islamic law. In addition to that, we should always assume innocence before guilt is proven. We should not take them immediately to the gallows. Based on these principles, it seems that attention has not been paid to human rights principles. There has not been enough consideration of the country's [legal] principles, either."
Although Iranian laws punish homosexuality, in practice there has not been a systematic persecution of homosexuals in recent years.
Abdolakrim Lahidji is vice president of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights. He tells RFE/RL that the Iranian justice system does not take active measures to investigate charges of homosexuality.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell
"In practice, if someone is not known for being homosexual and is not openly homosexual, I don't think that person would face a problem in Iran," Lahidji said.
An editor of "MAHA," an Iranian gay and lesbian electronic publication, told a Russian gay web site last summer that there are parks and cinemas in Iran known as being meeting places for gays.
Several Iranian gay and lesbian websites are available on the Internet. Iranian homosexuals also communicate and write freely about their sexual orientation in their web logs.
However, Lahidji says that if a person is suspected of a homosexual orientation, he or she could face harassment.
"Unfortunately, if someone is branded as homosexual and it is reported to the police or Revolutionary Guards, and then if that person is seen repeatedly with another man or woman then it is possible that there will be a case against him and that the case will be sent to the court," Lahidji said.
Human Rights Watch says that the recently reported execution of two gay men is in stark violation of the rights to life and privacy. HRW has also called on the Iranian government to decriminalize homosexuality.
HRW has documented several cases of persecution of gay men in Iran in recent years. They include a June 2004 incident in which undercover police arrested men after meeting up with them through Internet chat rooms.
HRW also quotes a report published by "Etemaad" daily in March 2005. It says Tehran's Criminal Court sentenced two men to death following the discovery of a video showing them engaged in homosexual acts. It is not clear whether the two men have been executed.
Lahidji, who documents human rights violations in Iran, says in recent years there have not been any other reports of gays being executed in the Islamic Republic.
"In recent months, two young boys were executed in Mashad," Lahidji said. "Their crime was the rape of a [13-year-old] boy. Therefore, this should not be considered as homosexuality. It was a rape case and based on that they were sentenced to death and executed. Except for that, we have not come across anything else. If the news [about the execution of two men for homosexual conduct] is correct, it shows that two people who had such relations with mutual consent have unfortunately been punished to death in Iran."
Not Enough Information
In Iran, where sexual topics are considered taboo, there is little information about homosexuality and many consider it a sin or a disease.
The editor of "MAHA," the Iranian gay journal, says life for homosexuals in Iran is mixed with fear, uncertainty, and self-oppression. However, he says the biggest problem is that gays simply do not have enough information or knowledge about their sexual orientation.