According to several sources, including Amnesty International and The Times, Iran has just hung a 19-year-old for homosexual activity. While the Times‘s headline says “Tehran hangs teenage boy for being gay,” it’s a bit more complicated than that. Hassan Afshar was arrested, along with another teen, at age 17, accused of raping a 13-year-old boy. Amnesty International reports this:
Hassan Afshar was a 17-year-old high school student when he was arrested. He had no access to a lawyer and the judiciary rushed through the investigation and prosecution, convicting and sentencing him to death within two months of his arrest as though they could not execute him quickly enough,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International
“In a cruel stroke of irony, officials did not inform Hassan Afshar of his death sentence for around seven months while he was held in a juvenile detention facility because they did not want to cause him distress – and yet astonishingly were still prepared to execute him. With this execution, Iranian authorities have demonstrated once again their callous disregard for human rights.”
There are several problems here. First, Afshar was a teenager when arrested. Second, international law does not allow rape as a crime for which the death penalty can be assessed, nor does it allow capital punishment for those convicted of crimes committed under the age of 18. Third, the evidence for “rape” seems thin; the accused was not allowed a lawyer; what kind of justice system is that? Further, if the rape had been deemed consensual, then the 13-year old would have been executed. Iran’s homosexuality laws are bizarre (my emphasis below):
Male individuals who engage in same-sex anal intercourse face different punishments under Iranian criminal law depending on whether they are the “active” or “passive” partners and whether their conduct is characterized as consensual or non-consensual. If the conduct is deemed consensual, the “passive” partner of same-sex anal conduct shall be sentenced to the death penalty. The “active” partner, however, is sentenced to death only if he is married, or if he is not a Muslim and the “passive” partner is a Muslim.
There are, of course, forms of homosexuality in which both partners are “active”; what happens then?
If the intercourse is deemed non-consensual, the “active” partner receives the death penalty but the “passive” partner is exempted from punishment and treated as a victim. This legal framework risks creating a situation where willing “recipients” of anal intercourse may feel compelled, when targeted by the authorities, to characterize their consensual sexual activity as rape in order to avoid the death penalty.
What isn’t mentioned in the Amnesty article is the requirement, under sharia law, that if a women claims she was raped, her testimony must be corroborated by four male witnesses (a requirement that’s unlikely to ever be fulfilled!) If that corroboration doesn’t exist, the woman, depending on her marital status, can then be accused of either consensual intercourse, adultery, or “being alone with a man,” and either killed, jailed, or flogged. This has happened in both Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Now it’s possible that Afshar and the other accused did rape the boy, in which case they should be punished. But such a conviction requires evidence and a lawyer for the accused, and should not be punished by death. Finally, we all know that the laws in some countries mandating death for homosexual activity are unconscionable. Here are the ten countries where you can be killed for having gay sex. What do these nations have in common?
The Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Nigeria (several states have adopted sharia law under which homosexual activity is a capital crime)
United Arab Emirates
These are all Muslim-majority nations. There are some qualifications: in some countries only Muslims can be executed, in other countries executions, while possible under law, have not been carried out. Nevertheless, no gay organization should be allied with, or support, any Muslim organization that finds no problem with these laws.
I’ll add my usual claim: these odious laws have nothing to do with Western colonialism or oppression, and everything to do with religion. Strictures against homosexuality are in the Qur’an (they’re also in the Bible, but Christians have wisely decided to ignore them).