Disturbing reports say that Iran executed six men over the weekend, three of whom were charged with sodomy. Beyond the obvious, this is noteworthy because it is rare for Iranian prosecutors to pursue specific sodomy charges, instead preferring to punish offenses related to homosexuality under rape or sexual assault which allows them then to deny the country executes gay people.
The news was first distributed through a semi-official news agency, the Iranian Student News Agency, who said the men were put to death by hanging on Sunday. The other three men were killed for crimes relating to drug-dealing, rape and robbery.
The state run Iranian news agency ISNA reported that three of those executed were sentenced to death by the Ahvaz revolution court, convicted of “unlawful” acts and acts against Sharia, based on the articles 108 and 110 of the Iranian Islamic penal code. Articles 108 and 110 of the Iranian Islamic Penal code are part of the chapter covering the punishment of “Hadd” for “sodomy”. Article 108 says: “Sodomy (or Lavat) is sexual intercourse between men”, and article 110 says:”Punishment for sodomy is killing; the Sharia judge decides on how to carry out the killing”.
The men were identified as: “M. T.”, “T. T.” and “M. Ch.” (age not mentioned for any of them) and besides being convicted of sodomy, had also committed other offences such as kidnapping and robbery, said the report.
Condemning the executions, the spokesperson of Iran Human Rights (IHR), Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, said:
“Yesterday’s executions for sodomy might be among the rare cases were the Iranian authorities admit to having executed men convicted of homosexual acts”. He added: “Iranian authorities normally present such cases as rape, but rape has not been mentioned in this case”.
Iran Human Rights, who said it was investigating these claims, appears to be satisfied as to the authenticity of this report, repeating that three of those killed on Sunday were indeed punished under sodomy charges. This comes as the group reports four more executions carried out Tuesday, though these were not related to sodomy charges.
Iran has previously denied the existence of homosexuals within its borders with President Ahmadinejad infamously saying during a New York visit: “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like you do in your country. This does not exist in our country.” Later reports have Ahmadinejad saying that homosexuality is present in Iran but he believes it is a Western import.
Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, a researcher at Iran Human Rights who is investigating the executions, told The Independent: “Iranian authorities have previously presented such cases as rape, in order to make the execution more acceptable and to avoid too much international attention, but this time the news is not presented as rape.”
He added: “This case is the only one in recent years where the only basis for the death sentence has been a sexual relationship between two men, with reference to the articles 108 and 110 of the Islamic Penal Code. These articles are very clear.”
In 2005 Iran received widespread condemnation for the execution of two teenagers Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, who were publicly hanged from a crane in a square at the centre of the city of Mashad. Gay rights groups claimed that the pair were murdered by the state for consensual sex but the charges against them were actually described as “lavat beh onf” against a 13-year-old boy. Although a number of human rights groups disagreed with gay rights groups over why the two boys were executed they nonetheless condemned the killings as a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Iran is a signatory to.
It is estimated that around 180 people have been executed in Iran so far this year for various crimes, an increased rate that has drawn fire from international human rights groups.
It should be noted that independently confirming cases of executions in Iran is notoriously difficult, especially when it comes to charges relating to homosexuality, and so the exact details of this case may never be revealed. However the widespread nature of these reports suggests at least some authenticity. As always in cases like this though, it is important to be aware that this story is open to clarification should new information emerge. We will continue to watch this story for further developments.