Iran defends harsh laws, but does it execute men for homosexuality?

Opponents of Iran’s repressive regime accuse it of executing men for homosexuality. Iranian officials defend the nation’s harsh laws. Yet, amid all the rancor, specific examples of Iranians who were actually executed for homosexuality are lacking.

“Our society has moral principles,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) said June 10 in response to a question about executions for homosexuality. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (left) did not respond to the question. (Meghdad Madadi photo courtesy of Reuters, Washington Post and Tasnin News Service)

The latest uproar began Monday in Tehran during a press conference held by the German and Iranian foreign ministers, Heiko Maas and Mohammad Javad Zarif.

A German reporter asked, “Why are homosexuals executed in Iran because of their sexual orientation?”

Zarif was surprised by the question. In his response, he didn’t deny that such executions take place, nor did he admit it. Instead, he launched into a defense of Iran’s justice system:

“Our society has moral principles. And we live according to these principles. These are moral principles concerning the behavior of people in general. And that means that the law is respected and the law is obeyed.”

Western journalists and officials tend to take such statements as confirmation that such executions take place.

To illustrate its article about this week’s press conference in Tehran, Deutsche Welle used a photo from the public hanging of two teenagers in Iran in 2005. At the time, that execution was variously described as punishment for rape and as punishment for consensual gay sex. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images/AFP)

The German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported on the Tehran incident in an article headlined, “Iran defends execution of gay people.”

It added, without further elaboration, that “Several thousand people have been executed for homosexuality since the 1979 Islamic revolution, according to some rights activists.”

A Washington Post article about the Tehran press conference described Iran as “a country that imposes severe punishments including the death penalty for gay sex,” which might be a true description, though it’s unproven. The Post article admitted that “Iran’s judicial system is often opaque, and the details of individual cases can be difficult to ascertain.”

But it also claimed that “international human rights groups say the country has …  a history of executing Iranians for gay sex.” The link to “international human rights groups” connects to a lengthy Amnesty International report about Iranian human rights abuses, containing only one line about homosexual activity: “Some consensual same-sex sexual conduct remained punishable by death.”

On paper at least, Iranian law provides for such executions (in other words, homosexual activity is “punishable by death”), but recent evidence of actual executions has remained elusive.

After analyzing multiple reports of an Iranian man allegedly hanged for homosexuality earlier this year, this blog stated:

When a man in Iran is hanged after being convicted of rape and sodomy, media coverage often wrongly describes the punishment as execution for homosexuality. The most recent example of such mislabeling appears in the Jerusalem Post, Gay Star News and Jihad Watch. Each states that an unidentified man was executed on Jan. 10, 2019, on “homosexuality charges,” which sounds like consensual same-sex activity.  But the articles make clear that the man was actually convicted of kidnapping and rape.

Related articles:

  • Executions for gay sex: 13 nations threaten it, 4 do it.(February 2019,
  • Bogus hanging in Iran, bogus tweets in Egypt  (July 2015,
  • Series of public hangings in Iran, including 2 for sodomy  (August 2014, (“there is possibility that these men were sentenced to death for sexual relationship with the same sex.”)
  • Witnesses to an Execution: An international furor over the hanging of “two gay teenagers” in Iran. (August 2005, The Nation)
  • Written by Colin Stewart

    Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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