19 year old Iranian executed for homosexuality and alleged rape

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)
Saudi Arabia
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).


  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 5, 2016 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Should probably say most Christians have decided to ignore them. Although death may not be on the agenda, in many regions of the U.S. you would be wise to stay away.

    Anyway it is also wise to study up on any countries you may be traveling to and then take appropriate cautions when you do travel. Many Americans seem to think that Uncle Sam travels with them wherever they go; kind of like their credit card.

  2. somer
    Posted August 5, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    The passive partner gets the chop if it is consensual. Muslim sexual norms are geared to maintaining gender roles where men are always dominant. Even the sex with boys is maintaining a hierarchy – older wealthier men can do this with boys and its tolerated in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan because they are not yet men don’t have families of their own and can play the dominant role later. Equal sexual relations – heterosexual or otherwise – threaten the sexual order. This is true in the Sunni Islamic world too – e.g. Bruce Dunne writing about the Middle East and Magrib (Muslim Northern African countries)
    for example
    Bruce Dunne, Power and Sexuality in the Middle East, Middle East Report online, number MER 206

  3. Kevin
    Posted August 5, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Christians might be reformed (not wise) enough to not hurl stones at homosexuals, but they also selfishly ignore the inequities barbarously applied by their fellow faiths. ‘It’s their belief system, who am I to judge. Jesus saves all.’

    It’s like climate change…until it smacks some people in the face, they won’t budge.

  4. Posted August 5, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Preoccupation with homosexuality as a form of criminal behavior is another manifestation of misogyny with the historically convenient excuse of scriptural adherence. The fear of anything interpreted as a feminine attribute being displayed by the male gender is “haram” precisely because patriarchy is built on a bedrock of insurmountable insecurity.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 5, 2016 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Very astute summary & conclusion.

  5. Athel Cornish-Bowden
    Posted August 5, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Hmm. Here are the countries that executed the most people in 2015:

    China (number unknown)
    Iran (977)
    Pakistan (326)
    Saudi Arabia (158)
    USA (28)
    Iraq (26)
    Somalia (25)

    Not good company to keep.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 5, 2016 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      I’m disgusted that so many countries still have the death penalty.

      The US is, of course, the only Western nation to retain it. It’s shocking that a potential president who ran on getting rid of it would probably lose.

      As for Christians ignoring the death for homosexuality part of their religion, I maintain that’s only because of the law for some of them. At the annual Religious Liberties conference they rail against homosexuality and hand out pamphlets discussing the ideal that it should be a capital crime. At the most recent one in 2015, Republican presidential candidates Cruz, Huckabee, and Jindal spoke. Google Rachel Maddow talking about the conference – it’s disturbing. (I’m on the wrong device to provide a link and won’t be on one where I can for several hours.)

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 5, 2016 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        “…and hand out pamphlets discussing the ideal that it should be a capital crime.”

        I had no idea they went so far–just when you think they couldn’t get more evil. How dare they cloak themselves in the banner of righteous morality. Not to mention “mercy.”

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted August 5, 2016 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

          Here’s the Rachel Maddow video I referred to above: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBDbGyv6SIQ

          • somer
            Posted August 5, 2016 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

            Wonder if the preacher has gay feelings and thats why he hates gays so much? I note the shiny pink satin lining inside his coat. All the more need to scream and gesticulate so much.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted August 5, 2016 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

              Ha ha! I missed that!

              • somer
                Posted August 5, 2016 at 9:32 pm | Permalink


            • somer
              Posted August 5, 2016 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

              Im not saying that he does have gay feelings let alone acted on them. I just thought the coat was amusing. But a number of Republican presidential runners attended the religious “freedom” conference and republican politicians, as opposed to preachers :
              “Male escorts are making crazy money at the RNC [Republican National Congress]”

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted August 5, 2016 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

        The US is, of course, the only Western nation to retain it. It’s shocking that a potential president who ran on getting rid of it would probably lose.

        In the air of post-Brexit Britain I recently made a joke of the ambitions of some of our reactionaries by claiming that they want to re-introduce capital punishment by fox hunting.
        It was only half a joke.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted August 5, 2016 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

          Yeah. It’s only fair to admit that there are plenty of people in both our countries (and a few others) that would like to reinstate the death penalty, especially when a particularly heinous case occurs.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted August 7, 2016 at 10:13 am | Permalink

            To quote some senior judge (I think during one of the 1980s attempts to bring back judicial murder – maybe it was Denning?), “Hard cases make for bad laws.”

  6. Posted August 5, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Persecution of homosexuals aside, the Iranian judiciary has utter contempt for the concept of due process of law.

    The judge and the jury are almost always the same. In fact, it is not uncommon for a judge to curse or verbally abuse the accused if he believes he or she is guilty.

    Torture is commonplace even for petty and poor criminals (in fact they are even more prone to be tortured by the police to confess). There is also no real right to have a counsel of one’s own choosing (this is especially true for political crimes or the crimes that draw the attention of international human rights organizations)

    As another example of the surreal situation in Iranian judiciary, a few days ago a lawyer came on TV to discuss the execution of his clients (they were Sunni Kurds accused of terrorism). He then casually said that some prisoners had used their leaves to escape and join ISIS so the judiciary had no other option to go on with the death penalty!!

    Doesn’t matter how bad the American system is or what problems it has, it still can’t even be remotely compared to the monstrosity called the Iranian judiciary system.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 5, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Prisoners have leaves? The judiciary seems a bit unsure of the concept, here.

      (Yes, I realize it’s more like cunningly duplicitous.)

      • Posted August 5, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        “Prisoners have leaves? The judiciary seems a bit unsure of the concept, here.”

        Indeed, they have! Prisoners are awarded leaves for good behavior and if they are not deemed a flight risk. If they try to escape and are caught, they will be flogged (74 lashes).

        In the case of the teenager, there were two legal tools he could have used to escape death:

        – confession of a minor is not valid
        – he could have repented before the witnesses were called into court and escape execution.

        I don’t know about the details. But my guess is the police and the judge hated him and wanted him hanged for both moral and political reasons. Therefore they played with him and didn’t let him understand and employ all the laws that could help mitigate his punishment. This is usually the case with poor criminals in Iran.

        This clever and cruel strategy allows the Iranian authorities (the grinning foreign minister Zarif comes to mind) to deny the charges of illegal or inhumane punishments with a clear conscience and make it about the West trying to impose its values on a country with authentic and just Islamic laws!

  7. Posted August 5, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    No country should meddle in (pass laws against, impose jail sentences or death penalties on) the consensual sexuality of its’ mature citizens. Sex with children and rape of anyone is another matter.

    If we could get our legal and justice systems focused primarily, or exclusively, on illegal behaviors that are a danger to individuals or populaces, we would be much better off. A huge number of people in U.S. prisons are there for relatively minor crimes. If the morality police weren’t so concerned about sexuality, drinking or toking, we could focus on the truly serious stuff and our prisons would not be so overcrowded.

  8. Posted August 5, 2016 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    “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.”

    Do you mean there is an international treaty that is ratified by Iran and forbids this? Otherwise this wording does not make sense, but I doubt Iran ratified something like this.

  9. Posted August 7, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Another “achievement” of the Iranian regime:

    “On Tuesday August 2nd 2016 The Islamic Regime in Iran executed more then 20 Kurdish activists of Sunni decent. While all these activists were “convicted” of allegedly committing terrorism related offences, there is serious doubt and concern about the lack of both due process and rule of law which eventually led to these mass executions.”


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