Friday, March 31, 2023

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Two Lesbian Women Sentenced to Death in Iran

Zahra Sedighi Hamedani. Source: 6Rang.

An Iranian court has sentenced two women to death, on charges of promoting homosexuality, in a country where it is illegal to be gay or lesbian, but legal to change sex. The two women, Elham Chubdar, 24, and Zahra Sedighi Hamedani, 31, were sentenced to die while in detention in Urmia jail, located in the Northwestern town of Urmia, the Hengaw Kurdish rights organization said. 

Amnesty Internation said that Zahra Sedighi Hamedani’s charges stemmed from the activist defending gay rights on social media and appearing in a BBC documentary about the abuse gay and lesbian people are victim to in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) notes that Sedighi Hamedani’s ethnic group is “Kurd,” her faith is unspecified, and the reason for her persecution was “Attending a Religious Gathering or Meeting LGBTI+ Rights Online Activity Religious Appearance Resisting State-Imposed Religious Systems.” 

USCIRF reports the nature of charges as being “Illegal Migration & Entry/Exit of Country Immorality Miscellaneous Religious Crimes.”

Zahra Sedighi Hamedani, also known as Sareh, is a prominent activist for Iran’s gay and lesbian community. Iranian security forces arrested Sareh in October 2021, when she tried to flee to Turkey, after returning to Iran from Iraqi Kurdistan: where she had been based. She was then held in solitary confinement for two months. There has been concern about the fate of Sareh for months.

“On October 27, 2021, authorities detained Sedighi-Hamadani in Urumieh, West Azerbaijan province, reportedly in relation to her real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity as well as her social media activity in support of LGBTQI+ rights,” reported USCIRF. “She was reportedly forcibly disappeared for 53 days and also subjected to solitary confinement and verbal abuse and threats by authorities of physical violence towards her and her children.”

The pair were convicted of “spreading corruption on Earth,” a charge inflicted on people deemed to have broken Iran’s sharia laws. They were also charged with promoting Christianity and communicating with media that opposed the Iranian regime.

“On January 16, 2022, Sedighi-Hamadani was informed that she had been charged with committing corruption on Earth (Art. 286 IPC) through “promoting homosexuality,” “communication with anti-Islamic Republic media channels,” and “promoting Christianity,”” USCIRF continued. “The first two components of the charge reportedly stem from her participation in a BBC documentary about LGBTQI+ issues in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The latter component was reportedly in relation to her wearing a cross necklace and attending a house-church several years ago.

“In July 2022, it was reported that Sedighi-Hamadani had been fined 5.3 million tomans for “illegally leaving the country.” It was also reported that authorities had accused Sedighi-Hamadani of “promoting homosexuality, gambling, fraud, and promoting illicit sexual relations and publishing them on the Internet.” It was also reported that Sedighi-Hamadani had been acquitted of an ‘encouraging prostitution’ charge.”

Another woman, Soheila Ashrafi, 52, has been arrested in the same case. She is waiting to hear her fate. 

Homosexuality is banned in Iran; its penal code criminalizes same-sex sexual behavior for both men and women. However, many avoid criminalization through medical and surgical gender reassignment. While compulsory sex reassignment surgery is not official government policy, the threat of the death penalty is a high incentive, and surgeries are subsidized by the government. Iran performs the highest number of sex reassignment surgeries of any country in the world, except for Thailand, and many appear to be unregulated and unreported. There is little regulation of the gender industry, and many reports of patients who’ve been mutilated.

Hengaw said that Sareh was refused her right to a lawyer during her detention. 

According to France 24, Shadi Amin, coordinator for Germany-based Iranian LGBT group 6Rang, said the group could confirm the execution verdicts now it had gained permission from the families. 

“We now demand pressure from Germany and other foreign governments [to release the two women],” she told AFP.

“This is the first time that a woman has been sentenced to death in Iran for her sexual orientation,” she added.

Before being arrested, while still in Iraqi Kurdistan, Sareh sent 6Rang videos to be publicised if she failed to make it to safety. 

“We, the LGBTI community, are suffering. Whether through death or freedom, we will remain true to ourselves,” she said in one of the videos.

“I hope to achieve freedom.”

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