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Two queer Iranian activists were just sentenced to death — here’s what you need to know about it

By Judy Bokao

IMAGE CREDIT: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/GETTY

Iran has recently intensified its crackdown on the LGBTQ+ community after sentencing two LGBTQ women to death. Earlier this week, Zahra Sedighi-Hamadani and Elham Chobdar were accused of “corruption on earth” by an Iranian court and sentenced to death.

According to the authorities, the two were “guilty” of human trafficking. They accused them of misusing and manipulating young women with promises of training and better jobs abroad. The Iran authorities said that the two have been carrying out these activities in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province and other towns in the country.

Amnesty International has denied these accusations and called for the death sentences to be lifted. Amnesty heavily condemned the death sentences and came to their defense. Amnesty said that Zahra Sedighi-Hamadani, who identifies as gender nonconforming, was detained since earlier this year after posting her support for the LGBTQ+ community on her social media accounts. In social media posts, Zahra, also known as Sareh, championed LGBTQ+ rights.

This was not the first time Zahra was detained. The first time was in October 2021 after their appearance in a BBC documentary criticizing the treatment of the queer community in Iran. Zahra was later released and was on their way to Turkey to seek asylum, but they was arrested by the Intelligence Organization of the Revolutionary Guards.

At the time of Zahra’s unwarranted arrest, the Intelligence Organization of the Revolutionary Guards announced that the “leader” of a human trafficking network had been successfully arrested. They also accused Zahra of leading young women to foreign homosexual groups.

On the other hand, Chobdar was arrested and detained over charges of “promoting homosexuality.” Chodbar is a 24 year old human rights activist who was advocating for LGBTQ+ rights in Iran.

It is clear that the Iran government felt that these two LGBTQ+ activists are undermining the country’s harsh stance on homosexuality. Iran is one of the countries that considers homosexuality illegal. The country is under Sharia law and it does not recognize same-sex relationships. The maximum punishment for homosexuality is death by execution. Due to the harsh punishments, most LGBTQ+ individuals in Iran have opted to get asylum in other countries such as America, Canada and Australia.

This is not the first time LGBTQ+ people have been executed in Iran. There have been at least 107 executions of individuals accused of homosexuality between 1979 to 1990. In 2007, a member of parliament argued that queer Iranians have to be executed as he believes they deserve to die.

In 2019, the Minister for foreign affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke to a German journalist and confirmed that executions of gays continue to take place in Iran. He said those are the principles that the Iran society lives by and they have to respect and abide by the law.

This is also not the first time the Iranian government has illegally arrested and detained people on suspicion of their sexual orientation. Iran periodically carries out crackdowns in major cities and arrests indefinitely and denies them legal representation. They also beat them and torture them to get confessions. There have also been cases of “honor killings’’ carried out by family members. Last year, a young man was killed by his brother and cousins after he was exempted from the military services due to his sexual orientation.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups are now working to get the death sentences to be lifted and are calling for the release of the two activists. Amnesty International in a statement on Tuesday called the arrest and the death sentences groundless and said that the case is being appealed in the Supreme Court.

Iran authorities have refused that the arrest, detainment and the subsequent death sentencing has anything to do with sexual orientation. They insist that they arrested them over human trafficking and said the two were also found guilty of “promoting Christianity and “communication with anti-Islamic media channels​.” They also refused to provide further details into the case or acknowledge Zahra and Chobdar activism.

The death sentences were met with a lot of criticism online and the impact this will have on other Iranian queer activists in the country. The fate of these two women now lies in the Supreme Court but it is unclear whether the international pressure on Iranian Court to drop the sentences will save their lives.

About the Author:

Judy Bokao was born in Ethiopia but relocated to Nairobi two years ago. She is passionate about everyone having equal rights and is also big on conservation and speaking up for our planet. Judy loves reading and photography and is just a free-spirited young lady trying to grow into a woman her mom can be proud of.

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