Iranian LGBTQI activists sentenced to death

Kurdish human rights organization Hengaw has reported that LGBTQI rights advocate Zahra Seddiqi-Hamedani (known as Sareh), 31, from the Kurdish city of Naqadeh, as well as Elham Choubdar, 24, from the northwestern city of Urmia (also known as Orumiyeh), were sentenced to  death by the Revolutionary Court in Urmia in Western Azerbaijan province on the charge of ‘corruption on earth’, which is punishable by death. The sentences were communicated to the pair at Urmia Central Prison over the weekend.

The exact details of the verdicts against Zahra (Sareh) Seddiqi-Hamedani and Elham Choubdar are not yet known. Amnesty International reported on the death sentences and stated that information it had obtained indicated that the conviction and sentences charges were ‘related to the women’s real or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and in the case of Zahra, her peaceful LGBTI rights activism’.

In January 2022, the authorities had accused Sareh Seddiqi-Hamedani of spreading ‘corruption on earth’, including through ‘promoting homosexuality’, ‘communication with anti-Islamic Republic media channels’ and ‘promoting Christianity’. The first two accusations related to her advocacy for LGBTI rights, including on social media platforms and through appearing on a BBC documentary aired in May 2021 about the abuses that LGBTI people suffer in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

The sentences issued against Zahra (Sareh) Seddiqi-Hamedani and Elham Choubdar, which come in the wake of increasing anti-LGBTQI sentiments and statements made by the country’s president, in which he has demonised and dehumanised individuals for their sexual orientation, are deeply disturbing. In a public speech on 1 September, President Ebrahim Raisi – against whom there is evidence of involvement in crimes against humanity –propagated hate against the LGBTQI community and called homosexuality the ‘ugliest of behaviours’, ‘ugliness and filth’, and a ‘wretched’ act. The president’s comments came against the backdrop of a history of Islamic Republic officials spewing hate against the marginalized community. In March 2022, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei also doubled down on his long-standing rhetoric against the LGBTQI community and called homosexuality ‘shameful’ and examples of ‘moral vulgarity and moral chaos’ and ‘sexual chaos’.

In a statement, the IRGC accused Sareh of: “Promoting homosexuality, gambling, fraud, and promoting illicit sexual relations and publishing them on the Internet.” No evidence has been offered by the IRGC to substantiate these baseless accusations, nor has Sareh benefitted from any due process. Reports indicate that Sareh was coerced into confessing to these “crimes,” potentially through acts of torture, including solitary confinement and threats that the State will take custody of her two children.

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