Iran, Assassinations, and Hypocrisy

Iran joined with many other nations around the world, including the United States, in officially protesting Saudi Arabia's decision to execute cleric Nimr al-Nimr for working to ensure equal civil and human rights for Saudi Arabia's Shiite Muslim minority. Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, Iran's "Supreme Leader," warned Saudi Arabia that it would suffer "divine retribution" for killing Al-Nimr. Along with al-Nimr, Saudi Arabia executed 46 others, including three other dissident Shiite clerics.

The executions have heightened centuries-old tensions between Iran, a majority Shiite Muslim nation, and its arch rival, the Sunni Muslim majority nation of Saudi Arabia.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei argued on his website that al-Nimr "neither invited people to take up arms nor hatched covert plots. The only thing he did was public criticism." Iran's influential Revolutionary Guard condemned Saudi Arabia's "medieval act of savagery," and prophesied that this would result in the "downfall" of that country's monarchy.

While the Iranians rightly condemned Saudi Arabia, I find it quite ironic when they represent the murders as a "medieval act of savagery." It's as if the Saudi's, in executing Shiite clerics, held up a mirror to the Iranians in which they saw reflected back their own long-standing and brutal civil and human rights atrocities.

Let us not forget that since the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, which replaced the Shah with an orthodox Shiite theocracy, many segments of the population have experienced repression under Iranian Sharia law -- of the many segments, in particular, include Iran's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* (LGBT) inhabitants.

Since 1979, some human rights activists estimated between 4000 - 6000 LGBT people have been executed in Iran. Same-sex sexuality between consenting partners in private is defined as a crime. Iranian law condemns men involved in sexual penetrative acts (sodomy or lavat) with the possibility of death, and so-called non-penetrative acts with flogging. After the fourth non-penetrative "offense," the penalty is death.

Women convicted of engaging in same-sex sexuality (mosahegheh) may be made to undergo flogging with 50 lashes. And also, following the fourth conviction, they too are eligible for the death penalty (Articles 127, 129, 130).

Examples are many. Two gay Iranian teenagers, 18 and 17-years-old, were hung in the streets of Iran on July 19, 2005, in Edalat (ironically called "Justice Square") in Mashbad, Iran. Reports of the widespread repression of gays in Iran have been verified by Human Rights Watch and the Iranian Student News Agency.

Following the Islamic Revolution, trans* identity and expression were also classified as crimes. However, the government reclassified these in 1986 as "heterosexual" if the person undergoes gender confirmation (formerly known as "sex reassignment") surgery. Today, Iran stands as the country performing the most gender confirmation surgeries in the world, second only to Thailand. Iranian trans* people, however, still suffer frequent harassment and persecution.

Repressive regimes around the world currently and throughout history have scapegoated, oppressed, and murdered LGBT people. The time has long since passed that we speak out against repression in all of its forms. I am not naïve enough, however, to believe that we will soon witness general human and civil rights legislated and enacted in the authoritarian theocracy of Iran anytime soon.