A Living Hell: LGBT Iranians and the Islamic State

He woke up naked on his bathroom floor. Hamid could hear police officials sifting through his ex-wife's jewelry boxes, emptying the drawers of his child's dresser and conducting an arbitrary search of his possessions.

Like many gay Iranians, Hamid was pressured by his parents to marry a woman based on prevailing traditions in Iran. But knowing he was a gay man, he and his wife divorced, and he was soon kidnapped by local authorities because of his appearance and beaten half to death in his home. "A man with long hair is not a man," he was told by an officer of the basij, the Iranian security force. "...Of course [your wife] would divorce you."

The basij are the smallest branch of Iran's military structure. While the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) serves as the primary institution to provide internal security and law enforcement, the basij, founded by Ayatollah Khomeini following the 1979 revolution, supplement their efforts. This paramilitary force is notorious for renegade behavior and attacking LGBT Iranians.

When Hamid woke up, the officers drove him to an abandoned building they called "the lounge of entertainment." Reeking of foul-smelling odors and covered with cockroaches, they placed him in the kitchen where government officers took turns raping and sexually assaulting him. "You've been with many men, so why not us?" he recalls them saying. Afterwards, "they took me to the courtyard of the house ... put detergent all over me and with a hose on high pressure they poured cold water over me to wash the mess they made to my body," he said.

How does one even begin to address this situation?

There are countless stories just like Hamid's, many well documented in the Human Rights Watch report "Iran: Discrimination and Violence Against Sexual Minorities." Case after case reveals arbitrary arrest and kidnappings, horrific incidence of torture and abuse of LGBT persons by government security officials. Making this situation even more untenable is a penal system that give judges the flexibility to ignore facts when trying individuals without enough evidence to convict them of sexual crimes. As pointed out by the IGLHRC, when there is insufficient evidence to convict an individual of sexual crimes judges "may use [their] knowledge, in a deductive process based on the evidence that already exists, to determine whether the crime took place or not. Unfortunately, the excessive use of this principle means that rather than paying attention to evidence, the judge often sentences defendants to death based on his speculations."

In Hamid's case, he endured hours of physical and sexual abuse. Before he was let go, the basij forced him to sign and fingerprint a "confession" under torture stating he had sexual intercourse with another man. These types of confessions are consistently coerced out of LGBT persons so that judges can convict them and "determine" how they should enforce some of the Iranian Penal Code's directives:

  • Article 108: Sodomy is sexual intercourse with a male.
  • Article 117: Sodomy is proved by the testimony of four righteous men who might have observed it.
  • Article 110: Punishment for sodomy is killing; the Sharia judge decides on how to carry out the killing.
  • Article 129: Punishment for lesbianism is hundred (100) lashes for each party.
  • Article 128: The ways of proving lesbianism in court are the same by which the homosexuality (of men) is proved.

Not only do these directives lack any legitimate protections of human rights, but Iran is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which makes it illegal to apply the death penalty for homosexuality or the private sexual relations between consenting adults. The state is also a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the killing of people under 18 at the time they committed an offense. Despite these realities, Iran continues to convict sexual minorities and young people, which has lead to the reckless killings of thousands.

"I fear for everyone who is living in Iran, because their fate is dependent on a set of inhumane laws and such people who draw pleasure in hurting human life," said Saghi Ghahraman, an exile from Iran and president of the Iranian Queer Organization. She has worked for years in her Canadian-headquarters to support LGBT communities back home, since she was exiled decades ago. She knows first-hand that there are virtually no legal or political systems in place for a member of the LGBT community to seek justice in Iran.

There have been a number of recommendations presented to the Iranian government to encourage it to be more respectful of human life, including the abolition of laws that criminalize consensual same-sex conduct, prohibiting abuse and harassment of sexual minorities by security forces and prohibiting the use of confessions secured under torture. But even through all the advocacy conducted by a broad group of domestic and international civil society players, the everyday life for LGBT persons in Iran has not changed. Groups like Ghahraman's Iranian Queer Organization and the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees work every day to support hundreds of asylum seekers around the world. To their credit, they are a small extension of Iranian society that provide the LGBT community as many avenues in their power to address the nightmare confronting LGBT persons back home.

The real solution to this situation, as Ghahraman pointed out, requires a much more radical shift in Iran outside of simply amending laws or strengthening the capacity of civil society players who support the LGBT community. The Islamic Penal Code and other institutions across the country designed around religious doctrine have proven incapable of supporting a standard of human rights acceptable in today's world. The solution: shift the system, not just the laws.

Ghahraman echoed this sentiment: "The LGBT community in the West is still fighting for rights and spreading awareness, but they have the tools for it -- a democratic system that makes fighting for civil rights possible. If we are not fighting 'God' [A Religious State], and instead can fight members of parliament or state's men, we will have a much better chance to have the right to live and have the right to a normal, open, just and satisfied life free of discrimination."