Middle East / North Africa

Dozens out on bail after Iran raid on ‘homosexuals,’ ‘satanists’

Oct. 9 arrests in Kermanshah, Iran (Photo courtesy of Mehr News Agency)

Oct. 9 arrests in Kermanshah, Iran (Photo courtesy of Mehr News Agency)

A court in Iran has released “dozens of people” on bail after their arrest Oct. 8 on charges related to “homosexuality and satanism,” according to an LGBT rights organization in Iran.

Earlier “at least 17” arrests were reported in the incident, which occurred in Kermanshah, an Iranian village near the border with Iraq.

6Rang expressed deep concern about implications of the arrests for the safety of LGBT people in Iran:

Kermanshah's location in Iran (Map courtesy of Chora Travel)

Kermanshah’s location in Iran (Map courtesy of Chora Travel)

6Rang is deeply worried about the well-being and fate of individuals in Iran who belong to the LGBT community. They are at high risk of long-term detention, psychological and physical torture, and death.

6Rang calls on the international community– including concerned citizens, world officials, and human rights activists and organizations– to help spread widespread awareness on LGBT-related issues in order to prevent the persecution and deaths of members of the LGBT community in Iran.

The news of the arrests represented a new public acknowledgment of Iran’s anti-gay campaign on behalf of the Iranian government and its Revolutionary Guards.

6rang in Farsi.

6rang  (the Iranian Lesbian & Transgender Network) in Farsi.

The group 6Rang (the Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network) noted that the news of the arrests was the first time that the government of Iran “has officially declared and confirmed an arrest for charges regarding same-sex relations.”

It is also the first time that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), widely known as the Revolutionary Guards, “has openly declared responsibility for confronting a community described as belonging to ‘homosexuals’ and ‘satanists,’ ” 6Rang said. “In the past, police and Basij forces [a paramilitary volunteer militia] were reportedly the forces responsible for raiding house parties and assaulting, harassing, and arresting guests for same-sex relations or ‘actions against chastity.’ ”

The Revolutionary Guards blamed foreigners for the incident, stating on its website that “from some time ago foreigners have deployed people from satanic and homosexual groups to the country in an attempt to spread disgusting behaviour.”

6Rang noted the severity of Iranian laws against homosexual activity:

Ahmed Shaheed, U.N. Human Rights Council's special rapporteur on Iran (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Ahmed Shaheed, U.N. Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on Iran (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Last month, following the publication of the latest human rights violations report of UN Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed, Mohammad Javad Larijani– Head of the Iranian Judiciary’s Human Rights Headquarters– said in an interview with state media: “In our establishment, homosexuality is a very bad disease. Gathering or promoting [homosexuality] is completely illegal and there are strict consequences and laws against it.”

In the past Islamic Republic of Iran authorities have denied the persecution of gays and lesbians, but at the same time have issued the charge of “Lavat” (a penetrative or non-penetrative sexual act between men), listed as a “crime” in Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, in order to justify execution and flogging sentences.

Under the Islamic Penal Code, consensual intercourse between men carries mandatory death penalty and between women is punishable by 100 lashes; and by death if repeated for the fourth time. The Penal Code also states that two men women caught engaging in non-penetrative acts are to be punished with flogging, but the fourth offense carries the death penalty.

The Guardian reported that “A number of foreign nationals, including Iraqis, were also among those detained, … [and reportedly] eight of the group were married to each other [although same-sex marriage is not recognized in Iran.]  The group were picked up from one of the city’s ceremony halls, which they had rented for a birthday party. The guards’ website said they were dancing as the raid ensued.”

The release of the arrestees was also reported by the groups Iranian Gay Rights and We Are Everywhere, Gay Star News said.

The blog A Paper Bird: Sex, Rights and the World reported, with approval of the Iranian Queer Organization, which followed the incident closely:

  • About 80 people were caught in the party. The Guards used pepper spray, beat many of them, and took the personal information (including mobile numbers) of everyone they found.
  • 17 people were arrested (the rest were freed that night), taken first to a police station and then to an unknown location. They were beaten, threatened, and verbally and physically humiliated.
  • Most of those have been released, but five remain imprisoned [as of Oct. 12]. There were reports they would face a court [on Oct. 12] but no one as yet knows the charges or the outcome.
  • All reports suggest that straight as well as gay and lesbian and transgender people were at the party.

Writing in Paper Bird, activist analyst Scott Long states:

What’s at stake in this case is not so much “LGBT rights” or the status of any minority — it’s the right to privacy, and its profound contribution to human dignity. Thinking of it solely as an “LGBT” issue misses the larger point.

Female member of basij militia (right) arrests a woman for revealing her hair (“bad hijab”) in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Paper Bird)

Female member of basij militia (right) arrests a woman for revealing her hair (“bad hijab”) in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Paper Bird)

The people at the party were exercising their right to do as they liked, harmlessly, behind closed doors: in a rented hall, to be sure, but that partly reflects the porous nature of safety and opacity in even “private” homes, where overbearing families keep watch, and intrusive neighbors mean a basij raid may be only a phone call away. This right has a scope that extends beyond closed spaces. It’s also the claim that women are making when they defiantly wear “bad hijab,” or straight couples when they declare their intimacy with an over-the-top embrace on the street; they’re asserting they should carry an umbrella of autonomy around with them wherever they go, because they’re human beings, and their bodies or their hair or their hands are nobody’s business.

The way the Iranian state treats this right with loathing and contempt, through a myriad micro-practices of meddling and surveillance, is one reason the religious police are perhaps its most popularly despised and resented symbol. It’s not because Iranians are all secular; it’s because they’re all human, and they want to be left alone.

Iran’s LGBT-identified communities have made many strides in recent years in building alliances with opposition activism, partly because they affirm not just the specialized identity of a minority but a freedom from oversight and intrusion that should be a universal entitlement. Not everybody in Iran knows what it’s like to commit lavat, or “sodomy,” but millions of Iranians know what it’s like to be at a party sweating in anxiety lest the basij break in. That’s where sympathy and solidarity begin.

UPDATE: In mid-November, Long noted that “these cases can drag on for years without a hearing.” He added, “My guess is that a lot of [the people arrested] have gone into hiding (i.e. moved to other cities) or, since Kermanshah is near the border, crossed into Iraq — or even to Turkey to claim refugee status.”

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