Tuesday, 11 January 2011

In Iran, another minor sentenced to death for 'sodomy'

Hangman's NooseNoose image by J. Stephen Conn via Flickr
By Paul Canning

Edited to add: Several hours after the reports of this case first circulated today to media organisations, Iranian Queer Organisation (IRQO) President, Saghi Ghahraman, emailed:
"Today has brought urgent new developments. There is strong possibility of forgiveness in his favour. In light of these delicacies, we must rescind our call to action on his case."
Press information about the case had included a sample letter calling for protests to Iranian authorities.


The Iranian Queer Organisation (IRQO) is reporting that a 19-year-old Iranian man is facing imminent execution on charges of attempting to rape another man. The execution is being pursued even though the allegation was withdrawn by the accuser.

Ehsan was 17-years-old when he was arrested in late 2008 in Shiraz, in the province of Fars, after a man pressed charges against him and two other youths, alleging that they attempted to rape him.

Under torture that may have lasted over a month, only Ehsan, who is the youngest of the three accused, confessed to the charges. The Fourth Branch of the Criminal Court of Fars province, in Shiraz, found him guilty of lavat and sentenced him to hang. Ehsan has since withdrawn his 'confession', saying that it was extracted under torture.

Ehsan was detained when he was 17, a adolescent, and kept in a juvenile detention centre up until a month ago. Since his execution order was approved by the Supreme Court (Branch Thirteen) he was transferred to Aadel Abaad Jail in Shiraz, where is awaiting execution, which, IRQO say, could happen any day now.

There is no evidence that the accused youth is gay.

The IRQO report is based on information from contacts inside Iran and documents also sighted by this reporter.

Last month Human Rights Watch in a major new report about the situation of Iranian LGBT said that those charged with engaging in consensual same-sex offenses stand little chance of receiving a fair trial. Judges ignore penal code evidentiary guidelines in sodomy cases and often rely instead on confessions extracted through physical torture and extreme psychological pressure, they said.
"Iran is not only one of the rare countries that imposes the death penalty for consensual same-sex relations, it also has people sitting on death row who allegedly committed sodomy as minors," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director said. "Every time the Iranian judiciary issues a death sentence for consensual sex, or against a juvenile offender, it is violating its international legal obligations."
The Iranian government maintains that "most of these individuals have been charged for forcible sodomy or rape."

The issue of executions for homosexuality in Iran has been the subject of international debate with activists including Peter Tatchell criticised over whether death penalty cases they have raised are actually gay as well as for a supposed lack of 'cultural understanding' of Iran. The journalist Doug Ireland wrote in July about the criticism by Human Rights Watch's now-resigned Executive Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program, Scott Long, of Tatchell and others, criticism which went as far as arguing that 'gays are not being persecuted in Iran'.

Because trials on moral charges in Iran are usually held in camera, it is difficult to determine, Human Rights Watch now says in this report, what proportion of those charged and executed for same-sex conduct are LGBT and in what proportion the alleged offense was consensual.

However in just one report, by Ireland December 2009, twelve men were facing execution for sodomy and a joint appeal had been made for them by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO), and COC of the Netherlands. There have been a number of reports since then of sentences of death for sodomy, known as 'lavat' under Iranian law.

The execution of Ehsan is opposed by a coalition of Muslim organisations from across the world: the Association of British Muslims (AOBM), Faith Matters, Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), USA and Canada, Canadian Muslim Union (CMB), Members of The Royal Order of Noor of Buayan, Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) and el-Tawhid Juma Circle.
“We appeal to the Supreme Leader and Chief Justice of Iran to show mercy by revoking the death sentence and releasing Ehsan. The evidence against Ehsan is weak. The accuser has withdrawn his allegations. It is unIslamic to sentence a person to death simply because they are alleged to be homosexual,” said Paul Salahuddin Armstrong, Co-Director of the Association of British Muslims.
Saghi Ghahraman, chair of the Iranian Queer Organisation (IRQO), said:
“We should urgently ask the Iranian judicial system to show sympathy to a mere minor who has been falsely accused. Either forgive and release him or have another trial and investigate the evidence more thoroughly.”

“Ehsan’s family is terrified of government and security service reprisals if their family name appears in the media, and so is Ehsan’s lawyer. This is why we are not releasing Ehsan’s full name or the name of his lawyer,” said Ms Ghahraman.
“As has happened in several cases in the past, you don't need to be gay or lesbian in Iran to be in danger of execution for homosexuality - a simple, unfounded accusation can be enough to see you sentenced to death,” added Dan Littauer, Human Rights and Press Director of AOBM.
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