An LGBT+ rights advocate who was arrested in Urmia last December has been accused by the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization of running a trafficking ring.
Zahra Sedighi-Hamadani, known online as Sareh, is aged 28 or 29 and formerly lived in Iraqi Kurdistan. She had blogged and spoken to BBC Persian about her experiences and those of the LGBT+ community in the region.
This led to her arrest in Iraq, and after being held by local police there for 21 days, she was on her way to seek sanctuary in Turkey via Iran when she was detained by the IRGC.
In a video report aired by the hardline Tasnim News Agency on behalf of the IRGC-IO on Monday, Sareh – whose name was there given as Zahra Mansouri-Hamedani – was accused of running “one of the largest prostitution networks in Erbil”.
The report claimed she was aided by two other individuals reportedly also now in custody, Alireza Farjadi-Kia and a friend known only as “Kati”.
Described as an “obscene gang”, the three detainees were said to have smuggled “more than a thousand Iranian girls” for sale in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. The report feaured as “evidence” some blurred footage of nightclub interiors, in which the subjects were not named or identifiable.
Sareh was also charged with unspecified gambling and fraud offences, and of “the de-stigmatization of illicit sexual relations” in her online activities.
After her arrest last year, the activist was interrogated for 53 days. According to Amnesty International and the Iranian LGBT+ support network Shesh-rang (“Six Colors”), while in detention she was subjected to degrading insults about her appearance and lifestyle, as well as death threats. Interrogators also threatened to take away custody of her two young children.
In the same period, Sareh’s friends were arrested and made to give forced confessions against her, some of which then aired on state TV. Shesh-rang reports that these individuals had been promised the footage would not be broadcast.
If found guilty of these offences in Iran, Sareh would be convicted of the arcane “crime” of “corruption on earth”, which under Iranian law carries the death penalty.
In a video posted published before she departed for Turkey, she had said: “If I reach the other side it’ll be ok. If not, it’ll be obvious what has happened. I’m sending this video... so that you understand how much pressure we bear.”
Shesh-rang understands the original indictment against Sareh in court related only to an “illegal” border crossing and having spoken to BBC Persian. “It is clear to all of us,” its report read, “that what has taken place is not due process, but a re-run of a show familiar to many of us who grew up in the suffocating atmosphere of the Islamic Republic.
“Sareh must be released immediately and unconditionally. We ask all human rights organizations and the media not to ignore Sareh’s detention, and to work for her freedom.”