Let’s Talk about Hadd: LGBT Rights in Iran

It is an age of progress for LGBT communities across the globe — 16 countries now federally recognize the right to marry. Eleven of those countries legalized same-sex marriage within the past five years. To be openly gay in countries like Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Spain still may not be easy. But to be openly gay in Iran is nearly impossible.

As discussion of Sharia law becomes more and more pertinent in western political spheres, it is important to be aware of its relationship to human rights. Sharia law heavily influences the Iranian constitution, which puts many on their guard. But Sharia law is not the stuff of extremism, nor is it meant to apply especially to governing bodies. It is a collection of thoughts and traditions rooted in Quran, Muslim communities by region and contemporary Muslim scholars. It is to be observed in the daily lives and prayers of practicing Muslims. It is both dynamic and open to interpretation.

Under current Sharia law, homosexuality is considered a “Hadd crime,”  a crime for which the Quran suggests a specific punishment. Proponents of more progressive thinking in Islam say that many Hadd crimes are at odds with another Islamic concept. Tajdid calls for the reform of Islamic society, in order to keep the religion pure.

Three chapters of the Islamic Penal Code of Iran relate to the punishment of homosexuality specifically. Chapters one and two define sodomy, called lavat, and the almost-as-condemnable tafkhiz.

Chapter two details the methods of proving sodomy (by confession, or the testimonies of four male witnesses. The testimonies of female witnesses are apparently unacceptable and dismissed.)A man or woman who confesses and repents may be pardoned.

Chapter three defines lesbianism and its punishments, which are slightly less than those of sodomy. A man of “age and sound mind” who commits lavat will be executed. A woman is not executed for lesbianism until her fourth offense. The method of execution is left to the judge’s discretion, but it is almost always death by hanging.

2013 saw the election of President Hassan Rouhani, a man many hoped would encourage tolerance toward minorities. Rather than adopting the vitriol of his predecessor, who claimed that, “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in [the USA],” he promised to end hostility.

But a year has passed with no improvement. No efforts have been made to lessen the persecution of the LGBT community. Holistically, in fact, the number of executions in Iran has risen.

Heavy punishments for “homosexual behavior” are still firmly in place; the social climate is hardly conducive to frank discussion of sexual rights. LGBT Iranians are left with two options: to live in secrecy, or to seek asylum as refugees, leaving their country, their homes and their families behind them.

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: MEHR, New York Times, Council on Foreign Relations, IRQR, Freedom to Marry
Photo: DIP Note