Two women have been condemned to death in Iran because of their links to the LGBTQ+ community on social media, human rights groups have reported.
Zahra Seddiqi Hamedani, 31, and Elham Choubdar, 24, were found guilty of a number of charges by a court in Urmia, in the Iranian province of West Azerbaijan, on 1 September but the details of their sentences only emerged this week.
According to Hangaw, a Kurdish human rights group, Seddiqi Hamedani and Choubdar were found guilty of “corruption on Earth” for “promoting homosexuality”, “promoting Christianity” and “communicating with the media opposing the Islamic Republic”. They were also found guilty of sex trafficking, a charge that human right activists say is fabricated.
Homosexuality is illegal in Iran and punishable by death under the sharia penal code.
Seddiqi Hamedani was arrested in Iran in October 2021 as she was trying to cross the border to Turkey, where she was hoping to claim asylum. In May that year she appeared in a documentary for the BBC Persian service, speaking about the abuse faced by the LGBTQ+ community in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq, where she was living at the time.
After the documentary was aired in May, Seddiqi Hamedani was detained for 21 days by Asayish, the intelligence and security agency of the Kurdistan regional government. She was subjected to torture, including beatings, electric shocks and prolonged solitary confinement, Amnesty International reported.
Before she attempted to cross the border between Iran and Turkey, Seddiqi Hamedani sent a video message to 6Rang, an Iranian lesbian network based in Germany, to be published in case of her arrest.
“I may be arrested at any time because they have all the information about me … my life is in real danger,” said a visibly distressed Seddiqi Hamedani. “If I don’t arrive [in Turkey]it is clear what happened.
“I want to inform you how much we are suffering as the LGBTQ community and we resist … whether in death or freedom, we remain true to ourselves.”
Shadi Amin, from 6Rang, said: “They [Seddiqi Hamedan and Choubdar] heard the sentence last week. Since then Zahra has not slept. She is angry.”
“Without international support, we have no hope,” Amin added.
Soma Rostami, from Hengaw, said that Seddiqi Hamedani and Choubdar had been denied access to a lawyer. Rostami added that Seddiqi Hamedani’s Kurdish ethnicity might have contributed to the harsh sentence she received.
In July, a state news agency published a video of two people who alleged that Seddiqi Hamedani trafficked Iranian women abroad. 6Rang say that the individuals in the video were detainees who gave testimony under duress.
Amin dismissed the trafficking charges as “propaganda” and part of a government strategy to discredit Seddiqi Hamedani.
Arsham Parsi, an Iranian LGBTQ+ rights activist based in Canada, said: “In most cases of executions of Iranian LGBT+ people in the past, the government tried to link the people to violent crimes like rape or violation of national security.
“They always exaggerate the charges to make them seem like dangerous individuals who have to be executed,” he said.
The news of the sentencing came after Iran’s hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, made a speech in parliament condemning homosexuality on 1 September. Raisi, who was elected a year ago, had previously referred to homosexuality as “nothing but savagery”. His government has also launched a crackdown against women’s rights activists in recent months.
Amnesty International has warned of a “horrific wave of executions” in the country after the easing of Covid restrictions. According to the group, at least 281 people were executed in the first half of 2022. Most were convicted of murder, with Amnesty describing “well-documented patterns of executions being systematically carried out following grossly unfair trials”.
Parsi said: “This execution [sentence] is, I think, mostly politics.” He added that he had been in touch with Seddiqi Hamedani on social media over the years.
“She asked me what I thought about her doing the BBC interview,” he said. “I told her it was dangerous, that she should wait until she is safe in Turkey, or do it anonymously. But she was determined. I haven’t heard from her since.
“I do not want to wake up and find out that it is too late – that she has been executed,” Parsi said. “We need international pressure.”