A Kurdish Iraqi lesbian who is well known for speaking out about LGBT issues in Iraqi Kurdistan was arrested in Iran while trying to cross into Turkey to seek asylum, the Iranian queer organization 6Rang reports. The 28-year-old woman, Sareh, has reportedly not had access to lawyers or her family since her arrest in October.
6Rang reports that Sareh was arrested in Urmia, West Azerbaijan province of Iran, on Oct. 27 while attempting to make her way to Turkey. Two weeks later, on Nov. 8, the Tasnim News Agency affiliated with state security forces reported that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had arrested individuals in West Azerbaijan on charges of “forming a gang for trafficking girls and supporting homosexuality,” which supporters have taken to refer to Sareh’s arrest.
Sareh had previously been arrested and detained for 21 days in Iraqi Kurdistan after she gave an interview with BBC Persian in which she described what life was life for LGBT Kurds in Iraq. She apparently sought to reach asylum in Turkey — a relatively safe country in the region for LGBT people — by traveling through neighboring Iran.
Same-sex intimacy is illegal in both Iraq and Iran, and LGBT people in both countries routinely face strong social stigma and violence from both state and non-state actors.
In a video recorded by Sareh while in Iran and released by 6Rang, she describes the torture she suffered while imprisoned in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“I was imprisoned in Iraq for 21 days for being a lesbian and for an interview I did with BBC (Persian),” she says. “I was finally released on bail and then escaped. I was kept in solitary confinement, because I am a homosexual, as a lesbian. I was electrocuted. Those 21 days passed for me like 21 years.”
Sareh’s case is unique because she released videos identifying herself and the persecution she faced as a lesbian before her arrest in Iran. In the videos, she said she believed that the IRGC was aware she was in the country and was looking for her because of her past activism for LGBT rights. She said she was attempting to draw attention to her plight and pre-emptively respond to any fabricated charges the IRGC might bring against her.
“We resist to the end for our feelings. Whether with death or freedom, we will remain true to ourselves. I hope that day will come when we can all live freely in our own country,” Sareh said.