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The Farda Briefing: Iranian Authorities Crack Down On LGBT Community

Amnesty International said in January that Zahra Sedighi Hamedani had been charged with “corruption on Earth” due to her public support for LGBT rights, as well as her appearance in a 2021 BBC documentary about sexual minorities in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. (file photo)

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I’ve been following during the past week and what I’m watching for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

An Iranian court this week sentenced two female activists to death for promoting homosexuality, human rights groups said. The two women were convicted of “corruption on Earth,” a vague criminal charge that is often used against opponents of the clerical regime or those deemed to have broken the country's Islamic laws.

Zahra Sedighi Hamedani and Elham Chubdar were also found guilty of “promoting Christianity” and “communicating with media opposed to the Islamic republic.”

Iran’s judiciary confirmed the death sentence, but it denied the charges stemmed from the women’s activism. It accused them of trafficking and exploiting young women. The sentences have provoked widespread outrage online.

Melika Zarr from the Germany-based Iranian LGBTQ rights group 6Rang told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Iranian authorities are “sensitive about increased awareness about LGBT rights” and “therefore crack down on the LGBT community while also creating false charges against them.”

Amnesty International said in January that Hamedani had been charged with “corruption on Earth” due to her public support for LGBT rights, as well as her appearance in a 2021 BBC documentary about sexual minorities in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Soon after, Hamedani said she was detained by Kurdistan authorities. She later reportedly attempted to reach Turkey via Iran but she was arrested.

Why It Matters: The death sentences are a chilling message to Iran’s LGBT community, which faces constant state pressure and discrimination. Under the country’s Islamic penal code, homosexuality is punishable by death. The sentences were handed down just days after hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi publicly blasted homosexuality as “very ugly and despicable.”

Earlier this year, Iran reportedly executed two gay men convicted of sodomy. Last year, a 20-year-old gay man was killed by his family in a so-called "honor" killing.

What's Next: Rights groups and activists are likely to intensify pressure on Iranian authorities to drop the death sentences against Hamedani and Chubdar. According to Iranian law, the women have 20 days to appeal. The 6Rang rights group has vowed to “halt the sentences in the appeals process.”

Stories You Might Have Missed

• Iranian filmmaker Ali Ahmadzadeh has been released after spending several days in detention. Sources told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that Ahmadzadeh was arrested in Tehran on August 30, after being summoned to security agencies several times in recent months. After that, the editor of the Mizan news agency, which is affiliated with Iran's judiciary, denied the claim. But Ahmadzadeh told Radio Farda that after he was summoned last week, he was held for five days until being released on September 3.

Ahmadzadeh has long been on the radar screens of the government, and his detention is the latest in a series of arrests of cultural and activist figures in Iran. Well-known filmmakers such as Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof have been arrested in recent weeks.

• Former Iranian President Hassan Rohani said a meeting between him and U.S. President Donald Trump in 2019 was scrapped because of the White House's refusal to hold off on publicizing the event until after it took place. Rohani’s comments were made during interviews with the authors of a new book, Without Smoke, Fire, And Blood, an account of his eight years as president of Iran.

Rohani said that he was ready to go against the orders of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and meet with the American leader in New York during a United Nations General Assembly in hopes the talks could lead to the easing of some U.S. sanctions against Tehran.

“It was clear to me that Trump is an actor,” Rohani was quoted as saying in the book, excerpts of which have been released ahead of its publication in Iran. “He was not a normal person.”

Rohani was president when Trump unilaterally pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear pact between Tehran and world powers.

What We're Watching

Last week, Iran and the United States looked to be on the cusp of an agreement to restore the 2015 nuclear deal. But this week, there is growing pessimism that a deal can be clinched quickly.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said he is “less confident” that a deal can be closed in the coming days. Tehran has again been accused of dragging its feet. Iran has reportedly insisted that the UN nuclear agency drop its probe into the origins of nuclear material found at three undeclared Iranian sites. Without that, Raisi said the nuclear deal would be “meaningless.”

Why It Matters: There is likely to be more back and forth between Iran and the United States in the coming days and weeks. Despite nearly 18 months of talks, both sides appear committed to the negotiations. An Iranian government spokesman said this week that Tehran has “no intention” of leaving the negotiating table.

That’s all from me for now. Don’t forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Newsletter

The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

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