Executing prisoners is not unusual in Iran. In this year alone, over 180 people have been put to death under the nation’s strict interpretation of Sharia law. Last week, however, Iranian officials executed three individuals for the crime of sodomy at the Karoun prison in the city of Ahvaz. These deaths were unusual because Iran officials typically charge men who have engaged in consensual sex with a partner of the same sex with crimes such as sexual assault or rape, rather than sodomy. Prosecutors use these charges in order to avoid international criticism and make the execution more acceptable. In 2005, Iran was strongly criticized for the public hanging of two teenagers, who were charged with sexually assaulting a thirteen year-old boy. Human rights groups argued that the teens had not assaulted the boy, but instead were being executed solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.
In this case, the three convicts were sentenced to death by hanging under articles 108 and 110 of Iran’s Islamic penal code for “lavat,” or sodomy. Article 108 defines sodomy as “sexual intercourse between men.” Article 110 states, “Punishment for sodomy is killing; the Sharia judge decides on how to carry out the killing.” A spokesman for the organization Iran Human Rights stated that these executions “might be among the rare cases were the Iranian authorities admit to having executed men convicted of homosexual acts.” The three other men who were executed with them had been convicted of trafficking heroin, rape and robbery.
Mohammed Mostafaei, an Iranian lawyer who has represented Iranian citizens accused of homosexuality, explained that there is often no proof to support these claims by prosecutors. When representing one client accused of homosexuality, Mostafaei said that the proof presented was “judge’s knowledge,” which is a “legal loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where there is no conclusive evidence.” Thankfully, his client, who is not gay, received a reprieve after his case received international attention. Mostafaei believes many citizens who are executed for alleged homosexuality may in fact be innocent.
Executing citizens solely because of their sexual orientation raises significant international human rights issues. Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which declares that a death sentence “may be imposed only for the most serious crimes” under Article 6. This conflict between Sharia law and international laws regarding discrimination will only lead to more tension if Iran continues to persecute its citizens based on sexual preferences.