Execution of two gay teens in Iran spurs controversy

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Map of Iran. Source: CIA World Factbook

International controversy erupted after Iranian officials executed two gay teenagers who were originally reported to be convicted of homosexuality, however later reports released by the Iranian government after international furor claimed the conviction was for the rape of a 13-year-old boy. The two were hanged July 19.

Only the age of one of the two executed teens was officially released to the public. He was 18 year old Ayaz Marhoni. The other, Mahmoud Asgari, according to the Iranian Student's News Agency (ISNA) was aged 17, but other news agencies have reported the teenager's age as 16. In the original report by the ISNA it was said that the two were found having sex together when they were both 16. It also reported that they were held and beaten for fourteen months before the execution.

The UK-based gay rights group, Outrage! claims the report issued later by the government of Iran is a "smokescreen" to justify killing homosexuals. And one media outlet, Direland, has blasted the media holdings of Rupert Murdoch that includes Fox News Channel and The Times newspaper for publishing the subsequent Iranian government issued allegation of rape as matter of fact without mention of the previous stories before international condemnation bearing no such accusations.

According to Iranian newspapers, the two boys were given 228 lashes for their other convictions of theft, disrupting public order and public drinking before they were hanged in Edalat ("Justice" in English) Square in the Iranian city of Mashhad. The executioners, fearing reprisals, wore masks and anti-riot forces were mobilized to prevent outbreaks of public protests.

Photos of the execution released by Iranian Students News Agency showed the two teens crying in the truck driving them to the gallows in Justice Square, located in the northeastern region of the country.

Executing youth

Iran has been under fire by international human rights groups for executing teenagers in the past, including the 2004 execution of Atefeh Rajabi, a 16-year-old girl convicted of having sex before marriage. Medical reports, not allowed in the court, had stated that she was mentally ill.

Like many other Islamic countries, Iran enforces the religious sharia law, which allows for the execution of children, including girls aged nine or older and boys 15 and older.

Iranian officials have complained that the media has emphasized the teens' ages. Deputy Ali Asgari said, "Whatever sentence is decreed by an Islamic penal system must be approved, unless proven otherwise... Instead of paying tribute to the action of the judiciary, the media are mentioning the age of the hanged criminals and creating a commotion that harms the interests of the state... Even if certain websites made a reference to their age, journalists should not pursue this. These individuals were corrupt. Their sentence was carried out with the approval of the judiciary and it served them right."

Both teens were convicted by Court No. 19 under sharia law. The teens are identified only as "M.A." and "A.M." Those found having homosexual sex in Iran may face death by either hanging, stoning, cutting in half by a sword, or dropping from a tall building or cliff.

An ISNA report said the couple acknowledged having sexual relations with each other but said they were unaware of laws against homosexuality.

Controversy over subsequent rape allegations

Another report, by Iran In Focus, claimed that the two were hanged not for gay sex, but rather for sexually assaulting a thirteen year old boy at knife point. Neither the original Iranian Student's News Agency nor an additional report from the National Council of Resistance of Iran had this allegation, said the United Kingdom based Outrage. Direland Press has noted that the accusation of rape in reports came days after international outrage and detailed reports by other Iranian news agencies. They suggest the recent report is a ploy of the Iranian government to justify its actions.

"The allegation of sexual assault may either be a trumped-up charge to undermine public sympathy for the youths -- a frequent tactic by the Islamist regime in Iran -- or it may be that the 13-year-old was a willing participant but that Iranian law ... deems that no person of that age is capable of sexual consent and that therefore any sexual contact is automatically deemed in law to be a sex assault," said OutRage!'s Peter Tatchell.

"This is just the latest barbarity by the Islamo-fascists in Iran," Tatchell remarked. "The entire country is a gigantic prison, with Islamic rule sustained by detention without trial, torture and state-sanctioned murder."

Poor track record with human rights groups

Tatchell told reporters that according to Iranian human rights activists, more than 4,000 lesbians and gay men have been executed in Iran since the ayatollahs seized power in 1979. He said an estimated 100,000 Iranians have been executed in Iran since that time.

Reports also indicated that three other gay Iranian teenagers are reportedly being hunted by police, but they are said to have gone into hiding.

OutRage! requested the international community see Iran "as a pariah state" and to "break off diplomatic relations, impose trade sanctions, and give practical support to the democratic and left opposition inside Iran."

The United Kingdom has a policy of constructive engagement with Iran, as does France and Germany, primarily directed at the resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis.

European Union officials have been holding a human rights dialogue with Tehran, but last year the report by Human Rights Watch said that violations had increased since 2000.

In the Unites States, the Human Rights Campaign has called for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to condemn the executions.

Sources

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