Dubai: Iran has sentenced two women accused of human trafficking to death, the official IRNA news agency reported on Monday. The sentence drew widespread condemnation online.
Authorities accused the women – identified as Zahra Sedighi and Elham Chobdar – of “corruption on earth”. It is a term often used to describe attempts to undermine the Iranian government. Officials said both defendants exploited young women.
However, overseas-based rights groups described the two women as local gay and lesbian rights activists. ‘IRNA’ made no reference to women’s activism. He reported that they were “abusing” women and girls by promising better training and job opportunities abroad – a reference to human trafficking.
A revolutionary court in Urmia, in northwestern Iran, some 600 kilometers northwest of Tehran, handed down the death sentences. Women have the right to appeal.
International rights watchdog Amnesty International identified Sedighi earlier this year as an ‘Iranian gender-nonconforming human rights defender’, describing her months-long detention as a result of her ‘sexual orientation and of her gender identity as well as her social media posts and statements in defense of LGBTI rights.
“Hengaw Organization for Human Rights,” a Norwegian-registered watchdog that monitors rights abuses in Iran’s Western Kurdistan province, reported that security forces also detained Chobdar for “promoting homosexuality.”
According to Iranian law, crimes such as murder, rape, drug trafficking and sodomy can carry the death penalty. Along with China, the Islamic Republic is considered one of the most prolific executioners in the world. The UN’s independent human rights investigator in Iran warned last year that the country continued to execute prisoners “at an alarming rate”.
Homosexuality is illegal in Iran, considered one of the most repressive places in the world for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The fear of persecution is so strong that some gays and lesbians have sought and obtained asylum in other countries. Earlier this year, Iran reportedly executed two gay men accused of sodomy.