In total six people were executed. According to the published charges, two men were put to death for robbery and rape and one was executed for drug trafficking.
But in an unusual announcement the prosecutor office also admitted that three other men were sentenced for “lavat”, the phrase used in Islamic law for sodomy. The names of the three men have not been given – only their initials M.T, T.T and M.Ch.
Human rights groups have said the case is significant because gay men that come before the courts are usually charged with acts such as sexual assault and rape – crimes that convey an element of coercion rather than consensual sex between two willing participants.
The recent Ahvaz executions, however, specifically refer to sections 108 and 110 of the Iranian penal code. Section 108 defines sodomy under Iran’s interpretation of Sharia law and the latter rules that the punishment for lavat is death. Previous executions of gay men usually quote sections of the Iranian penal code that refer to “lavat leh onf” – sodomy by coercion.
Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, a researcher at Iran Human Rights who is investigating the executions, told The Independent: “Iranian authorities have previously presented such cases as rape, in order to make the execution more acceptable and to avoid too much international attention, but this time the news is not presented as rape.”
He added: “This case is the only one in recent years where the only basis for the death sentence has been a sexual relationship between two men, with reference to the articles 108 and 110 of the Islamic Penal Code. These articles are very clear.”
Confirming executions of gay men and women inside Iran is notoriously difficult. Prosecutors often give scant information about the killings and because of the cultural stigma attached to homosexuality few families are willing to publicly come forward with details about whether their loved ones were executed for their sexual behaviour.
In 2005 Iran received widespread condemnation for the execution of two teenagers Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, who were publicly hanged from a crane in a square at the centre of the city of Mashad. Gay rights groups claimed that the pair were murdered by the state for consensual sex but the charges against them were actually described as “lavat beh onf” against a 13-year-old boy. Although a number of human rights groups disagreed with gay rights groups over why the two boys were executed they nonetheless condemned the killings as a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Iran is a signatory to.
Run by a strict interpretation of Sharia law, Iran remains one of the world’s largest executors with more than 180 people put to death so far this year. The province of Khuzestan, where ethnic Arabs are often persecuted by the authorities has a particularly high rate of killings.
Daniel Brett, director of the Ahwazi Arab Solidarity Network told the Gay Middle East website: “Ahvaz has the highest rate of executions in Iran, partly due to the persecution of the local Arab population and partly because prisoners from other parts of Iran are transported to the city – particularly the notorious Karoun prison where hangings are carried out in secret.”