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LGBT rights in Iran

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Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, LGBT and human rights groups have cited a government intolerance relating to the Iranian gay community; This intolerance is partially attributed to institutionalized assertions that homosexuality does not exist in Iran,[1] though that characterization is disputed by the government.[2] Officially, homosexuality remains a crime under the country's theocratic Islamic government. All types of sexual activity outside a heterosexual marriage remain forbidden, although it is debated to what extent these laws are enforced.

History of LGBT rights in IranEdit

There is a large amount of literature in Persian that explicitly illustrates the ancient existence of homosexuality among Iranians.[3]

In Persian poetry, references to sexual love can be found in addition to those of spiritual/religious love. A few ghazals (love poems) and texts in Saadi's Bustan and Gulistan have been interpreted by Western readers as homoerotic poems. In some poems, Sa'di's beloved is a young man, not a beautiful woman. In this he followed the conventions of traditional Persian poetry. Sa'di's own attitude toward homosexuals was more negative than positive. In the Gulistan he stated, "If a Tatar slays that hermaphrodite / The Tatar must not be slain in return." Another story tells of the qazi of Hamdan whose affection towards a farrier-boy is condemned by his friends and the king, who eventually says: "Everyone of you who are bearers of your own faults / Ought not to blame others for their defects."[4] Many misinterpretations of Persian poetry also stem from distorted translations. In the Persian language, there exists only one word for "him/his" and "her". In English translations, the translator has to select one and assign a gender to the word.

Author Janet Afary, an associate professor at Purdue University, claims that "Classical Persian literature — like the poems of Attar (died 1220), Rumi (d. 1273), Sa’di (d. 1291), Hafez (d. 1389), Jami (d. 1492), and even those of the 20th century Iraj Mirza (d. 1926) — are replete with homoerotic allusions, as well as explicit references to beautiful young boys and to the practice of pederasty." She further states that "Professors of literature have been forced to teach that these extraordinarily beautiful gay love poems aren’t really gay at all and that their very explicit references to same-sex love are really all about men and women." She says that the 1979 revolution was partly motivated by moral outrage against the Shah's regime, and in particular against a mock same-sex wedding between two young men with ties to the court, and says that this explains the virulence of the anti-homosexual oppression in Iran.[5]

There are many other Iranian homosexual authors who stated similar issues. In one source, the author claims: "The 'beloved' in Persian lyrics is, as a rule, not a female, but a young male, often a pubescent or adolescent youth, or a young boy. No sense of shame, no unease, no notion of concern for religious prohibition affects the exuberant descriptions of the male beloved or the passionate love displayed by the poets for him." [6] Such contradictory statements can be attributed mainly to two issues: 1) the authors ignore the fact that this style of poetry has been the main style of Iranian poetry for centuries, irrespective of the sexual orientation of poets and 2) except between blood relations, "love" in Western culture is often used as shorthand for sexual love, which is not the case in Iranian culture. Love between a spiritual guide and a follower and love between family members are two examples of the separation of the ideas of love and sexual love. In Sufi poetry and Ghazal, the main theme is the love story between a human and his or her beloved God, who might be described as a beautiful man. The reference to God as a "male" can also be seen in other religions such as Christianity.

According to his most authoritative modern biographer, the Persian scholar Franklin D Lewis, "while Rumi seems slightly out of place in the company of Ginsberg, and seriously misunderstood as a poet of sexual love, it simply defies credulity to find Rumi in the realm of haute couture. But models draped in Donna Karan's new black, charcoal and platinum fall fashions actually flounced down the runway to health guru Deepak Chopra's recent musical versions of Rumi."[7]

In 1963, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini wrote a book in which he stated that there was no religious restriction on corrective surgery. However, this applied only to intersexuals, and at the time Khomeini was a radical, anti-Shah revolutionary and his fatwas did not carry any weight with the Imperial government, which did not have any specific policies regarding transgendered individuals.

Under the rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last monarch of the Pahlavi Dynasty, homosexuality was tolerated, even to the point of allowing news coverage of a same-sex wedding. In the late 1970s, some Iranians even began to talk about starting up a gay rights organization, similar to the Gay Liberation movement. Up until the revolution, there were some night clubs where gay behavior was tolerated. During the Shah's time, however, homosexuality was still taboo everywhere and often one could not turn to family or friends for support and guidance. There were no public agencies to assist youth or people who were confused or questioning their sexuality.

On 24 September 2007, while speaking at Columbia University, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, in answer to the question "Iranian women are now denied basic human rights and your government has imposed draconian punishments including execution on Iranian citizens who are homosexuals. Why are you doing those things?", "We don't have homosexuals, like in your country. I don't know who told you that."[8]

Legal statusEdit

Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, the legal code has been based on a conservative interpretation of Islamic Shari'a law. All sexual relations that occur outside of a traditional, heterosexual marriage (i.e. sodomy or adultery) are illegal and no legal distinction is made between consensual or non-consensual sexual activity. Homosexual relations that occur between consenting adults in private are a crime and carry a maximum punishment of death. Teenage boys as young as fifteen are eligible for the death penalty (see Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni). Approved by the Islamic Republic Parliament on 30/7/1991 and finally ratified by the High Expediency Council on 28/11/1991, articles 108 through 140 distinctly talk about homosexuality and its punishments in detail:[9]

Male homosexualityEdit

Sodomy is a crime for which both partners can be punished by death. If the participants are adults, of sound mind and consenting; the method of execution is for the Shari'a judge to decide. A non-adult who engages in consensual sodomy is subject to a punishment of 74 lashes. (Articles 108 to 113) Sodomy is proved either if a person confesses four times to having committed sodomy or by the testimony of four righteous men. Testimony of women alone or together with a man does not prove sodomy. (Articles 114 to 119). "Tafhiz" (the rubbing of the thighs or buttocks) and the like committed by two men is punished by 100 lashes. On the fourth occasion, the punishment is death. (Articles 121 and 122). If two men "stand naked under one cover without any necessity", both are punished with up to 99 lashes; if a man "kisses another with lust" the punishment is 60 lashes. (Articles 123 and 124). If sodomy, or the lesser crimes referred to above, are proved by confession, and the person concerned repents, the Shari'a judge may request that he be pardoned. If a person who has committed the lesser crimes referred to above repents before the giving of testimony by the witnesses, the punishment is quashed. (Articles 125 and 126).

As of 2007, teenagers accused of engaging in sodomy have been executed, although the official rationale for the hangings is debated.

Female homosexualityEdit

The punishment for female homosexuality involving persons who are mature, of sound mind, and consenting, is 100 lashes. If the act is repeated three times and punishment is enforced each time, the death sentence will apply on the fourth occasion. (Articles 127, 129, 130) The ways of proving lesbianism in court are the same as for male homosexuality. (Article 128) Non-Muslim and Muslim alike are subject to punishment (Article 130) The rules for the quashing of sentences, or for pardoning, are the same as for the lesser male homosexual offences (Articles 132 and 133) Women who "stand naked under one cover without necessity" and are not relatives are punished by up to 100 lashes. (Article 134)


Iran has between 15,000 and 20,000 transsexuals, according to official statistics, although unofficial estimates put the figure at up to 150,000. Iran carries out more gender change operations than any country in the world besides Thailand. Sex changes have been legal since the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution, passed a fatwa authorising them nearly 25 years ago. Whereas homosexuality is considered a sin, transsexuality is categorised as an illness subject to cure. While the government seeks to keep its approval quiet, state support has increased since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005. His government has begun providing grants of £2,250 for operations and further funding for hormone therapy. It is also proposing loans of up to £2,750 to allow those undergoing surgery to start their own businesses.[2]

Application of lawsEdit


There are various reports of the death penalty being applied for homosexual conduct, and as this sentence has often been carried out against dissidents, it may be a tool to silence political dissent as much as to oppress homosexuals.

According to The Boroumand Foundation[10], there are records of at least 107 executions with charges related to homosexuality between 1979 and 1990.[11] According to Amnesty International, at least 5 people convicted of "homosexual tendencies", three men and two women, were executed in January 1990, as a result of the Iranian government's policy of calling for the execution of those who practice homosexuality.[12] In April 1992, Dr. Ali Mozafarian, a Sunni Muslim leader in the Fars province (Southern Iran), was executed in Shiraz after being convicted on charges of espionage, adultery, and sodomy. His videotaped confession was broadcast on television in Shiraz and in the streets of Kazerun and Lar.

On March 14, 1994, dissident writer Ali Akbar Saidi Sirjani was charged with offences ranging from espionage to homosexual improprieties.

On November 12, 1995, by the verdict of the eighth judicial branch of Hamadan and the confirmation of the Supreme Court of Iran, Mehdi Barazandeh, otherwise known as Safa Ali Shah Hamadani, was condemned to death. The judicial authorities announced that Barazandeh's crimes were repeated acts of adultery and "the obscene act of sodomy." The court's decree was carried out by stoning Barazandeh. Barazandeh belonged to the Khaksarieh Sect of Dervishes. (Islamic Republic Newspaper - November 14th 1995 + reported in Homan's magazine June, 10 1996).

The execution of Ali Sharifi was reported in Hamadan by the Washington Blade in 1998. Sharifi was hanged for having gay sex, adultery, drinking alcohol, and dealing drugs.[citation needed]

In 2005, two Iranian teenagers, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, were both sentenced to death for what Iranian reports indicated was the rape of the thirteen-year old boy. However, some groups and activists, such as British activist Peter Tatchell, claimed based on incomplete press reports that they were executed for consensual gay sex. Human Rights Watch has noted that there is insufficient evidence to make a final determination in the case, but that no reliable reports suggest that the two were executed for consensual sex. Paula Ettelbrick, director of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said "It was not a gay case," taking issue with the Human Rights Campaign’s statement that was quick to condemn the execution as anti-gay. "We would welcome HRC’s involvement in demanding that our government speak out on human rights violations. It was just the wrong case,” she said.[13]

At the discretion of the Iranian court, fines, prison sentences, and public lashings may be used instead of a public execution. As the Islamic law covers all aspects of Iranian society and culture, no public discussion of homosexuality is permitted, no gay rights organizations are allowed to exist, and no political party that supports gay rights will have their candidates on the election ballot.

In a November 2007 meeting with his British counterpart, Iranian MP Mohsen Yahyavi admitted that Iran believes in the death penalty for homosexuality. According to Yahyavi, gays deserve to be tortured, executed, or both.[14]

December 6, 2007, Iran carried out the execution of Makwan Mouloudzadeh for raping three teenage boys when he was 13, in spite of the fact that all witnesses had retracted their accusations.[15] Despite international outcry and a nullification of the death sentence by Iranian Chief Justice Ayatollah Seyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrud, Mr. Mouloudzadeh was hanged without his family or his attorney being informed until after the fact.[16]

LGBT civil rightsEdit

No civil rights legislation exists in Iran to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Depictions of homosexuality are prohibited in society or in the press, unless it is negative. No organization or political party is permitted to exist that endorses LGBT human rights.

The concept of sexual orientation is not recognized in Iran, nor does the judiciary acknowledge the existence of LGBT people and instead believes that all people are normally heterosexual.[17] Thus, they claim that "homosexuality is a violation of the supreme will of their God".

As a result, no laws exist that protect LGBT Iranians from discrimination, harassment, or bias-motivated violence, and as a theocratic political system, no such laws are permitted to exist. Most Iranian LGBT people remain in the closet about their sexual orientation for fear of being the victims of discrimination, hate crimes, government sanctions, corporal punishment, and/or capital punishment.

The only legal recognition for couples is a legal marriage between one male and one female, both Muslim.[citation needed] The Islam-based legal system prohibits opposite sex couples from associating in public,[citation needed] and dating is taboo.[citation needed] Male homosexual couples might be able to pretend that their relationship is platonic, but any type of sexual activity outside of a heterosexual marriage is illegal.

Censorship of literature and history has been documented under the rule of both the Pahlavi dynasty monarchy and the Islamic Republic in Iran. In 2002, a book entitled Witness Play by Cyrus Shamisa was banned from shelves (despite being initially approved) because it said that certain notable Persian writers were homosexuals or bisexuals.[18]

LGBT politicsEdit

Politics of Iran went through some degree of moderation in the 1990s as Iranian intellectuals, journalists, and students sought greater freedom, especially in areas of speech, academics, and the press. In 1997, the reformist movement helped to elect Mohammad Khatami to the presidency, who promised to improve the conditions for women and youth and bring about democratic reforms. The conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the new president in 2005.

The Iranian clerics will not allow a political party or organization to endorse LGBT human rights, as even if the clerics were to lose the power to exclude candidates from public office, most experts feel that Iranians tend to be deeply homophobic and thus would not support such a campaign.[19]

Some opposition political movement in the Iranian diaspora have expressed support for LGBT human rights. The Green Party of Iran has an English translation of its website that states, "Every Iranian citizen is equal by law, regardless of gender, age, race, nationality, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, or political beliefs" and calls for a "separation of state and religion" [3]. Likewise, the Worker Communist Party of Iran homepage has an English translation of its manifesto that supports the right of "All adults, women or men" to be "completely free in deciding over their sexual relationships with other adults. Voluntary relationship of adults with each other is their private affair and no person or authority has the right to scrutinize it, interfere with it or make it public" [4]. Likewise, the leftist Rah-e Karegar Party, the liberal Marz-e Por Gohar and the center-right Constitutionalist Party of Iran have expressed support for the separation of religion and the state. However, such political organizations are all exiled and thus cannot change the situation in Iran. The Iranian government has taken steps to prevent the spread of AIDS-HIV.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, transgendered individuals have been officially recognized by the government and allowed to undergo sex reassignment surgery. (see: Transsexuality in Iran)

The Iranian military exempts LGBT people from military service, viewing them as having a mental illness, although homosexual conduct or sodomy would be treated as a serious crime under military or civilian law.

Asylum casesEdit

Many middle class Iranians have received an education in a Western nation; there is a small population of gay Iranian immigrants who live in Western nations. However, most attempts by gay Iranians to seek asylum in a foreign country based on the Iranian government's anti-gay policies have failed.

In 2001, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights rejected a plea from an Iranian man who escaped from an Iranian prison after being convicted and sentenced to death for the crime of homosexuality.[20] Part of the problem with this case was that the man had entered the country illegally and was later convicted of killing his boyfriend, after he discovered that he had been unfaithful.

In 2005, the Japanese government rejected an asylum plea from another Iranian gay man. That same year, the Swedish government also rejected a similar claim by an Iranian gay man, but temporarily halted the man's deportation pending a legal appeal. The Netherlands is also going through a review of its asylum policies in regard to Iranians claiming to be victims of the Iranian government's anti-gay policies.

In 2006, the Netherlands stopped deporting gay men back to Iran temporarily. The UK came under fire for its continued deporting, especially due to news reports documenting gay Iranians who committed suicide when faced with deportation. In March 2006, Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk said that it was now clear "that there is no question of executions or death sentences based solely on the fact that a defendant is gay", adding that homosexuality was never the primary charge against people. However, in October 2006, after pressure from both within and outside of the Netherlands, Verdonk changed her position and announced that Iranian LGBTs would not be deported. Human Rights Watch has stated that this decision once again put the Netherlands in compliance with international law.[21]

See alsoEdit

References Edit

External linksEdit

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