April 1, 2023

Two Iranian LGBT+ activists who verbally challenged gender norms are facing possible executions, alarming advocacy groups around the world and sparking an outcry from their supporters.

Zahra Sedighi-Hamadani, 31, and Elham Choobdar, 24, are widely regarded as advocates for LGBT+ rights living in northwestern Iran.

The notoriously hard-line Revolutionary Court in the northwestern city of Urmia on Sunday sentenced two people on charges of “corruption on earth”, “spreading” homosexuality, propagating Christianity and engaging with hostile foreign media, according to reports. death penalty.

A news agency linked to the Iranian judiciary confirmed the pair were on death row, but said they were charged with “deceiving women and young girls and trafficking them into a country in the region.”

No evidence has been released publicly, and as with most cases handled by the Secret Revolutionary Guard, the inner workings of the case remain obscure.

“That’s what Iran has been doing to the LGBT community,” said Soma Rostami of the advocacy group Hengaw. “Zahra and Elham are both LGBT activists. Until they can, [Iran] LGBT individuals will be suppressed and they will also have a voice abroad. “

Death penalty cases in Iran must be reviewed by higher courts, with advocates across the country and around the world asking authorities to quash sentences. Three Iranian men sentenced to death for their alleged involvement in 2019 protests have had their sentences commuted to five years in prison under international pressure, lawyers for three Iranian men revealed on Tuesday.

Clothing retailers Choobdar and Sedighi-Hamadani apparently knew each other.

While little is known about Jobdar’s case, Sedigi-Hammadani has been the focus of efforts by activists and advocacy groups for months, including Amnesty International, which has described her as an “Iranian sexist” Non-compliant human rights defenders”.

The activist, a mother of two, was reportedly arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in October last year after allegedly trying to cross the border into Turkey, according to the Iran Lesbian and Transgender Network.

Legal experts are puzzled over how border crossing charges, which typically carry fines of less than $200 (£174), have somehow been extended to death penalty cases. But advocates suspect that Sedigi-Hammadani’s LGBT+ status, and her interview with the BBC’s Farsi service, may have contributed to the escalation.

“Saree has been very motivated in defending LGBTI rights,” said Shadi Amin, executive director of 6 Rang, an Iranian human rights advocacy group. “She has spoken openly about her forced marriage, her lifestyle and her own lesbian identity. She is very active on social media. It all makes her special. She is a role model for many young LGBT people.”

After her arrest, Sedighi-Hamadani was held in solitary confinement for nearly two months before being transferred to prison, where she was reportedly denied access to a lawyer, according to an advocacy group.

Both activists were forced to plead guilty and received further punishment when they refused to plead guilty, Rostami said. She said authorities threatened to take Sarai’s children from her and deprive her friendly prisoners of their privileges.

Without evidence, pro-regime social media channels accused Sedighi-Hamadani of trafficking hundreds of Iranian women and girls and forcing them to engage in sex work abroad.

In April, Tasnim, a news outlet affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, released a propaganda video about the activist, accusing her of gambling and financial crimes, and mocking the campaign for her release.

Homosexuality is officially banned in Iran under a harsh interpretation of Islamic law and is theoretically punishable by the death penalty, although executions of lesbians or gay men without other crimes are rare. Authorities often charge those accused of being gay with more traditional crimes, such as rape or murder.

Iran’s dominant religious hardliners have been fueling hatred of gender and minorities in recent months. This week, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi described homosexuality as a “very trivial and ugly” phenomenon accepted by the West.

In recent years, thousands of Iranian gay, lesbian and transgender people have fled Iran and sought asylum abroad.

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