Detained LGBT+ rights advocate Zahra Sedighi-Hamedani, known online as Sareh, has been ordered to pay a fine of 5.3 million tomans for “illegally leaving the country”.
The young blogger was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards on the Turkish border last year. She had previously lived and worked in Iraqi Kurdistan, and was jailed there for 20 days after she spoke to BBC Persian about the experience of being queer in the region.
On July 20 of this year, a propaganda video aired by the hardline Tasnim News Agency on behalf of the IRGC-IO claimed without evidence that Sareh had been running a “prostitution ring” to Erbil. It also accused her of gambling and fraud offenses.
The Iranian LGBT+ support network Shesh-rang (Six Colors) reports that the fine was issued by Branch 111 of Urmia Criminal Court. Lawyer Shadi Sadr, who has seen the verdict, told IranWire a second charge of “encouraging prostitution” had been referred to the Revolutionary Court, and Sareh had been acquitted of it.
The verdict from Urmia also indicates that “participating in the trafficking of women and girls” was not among the charges levelled against Sareh in either court. The documentary that aired on Tasnim also wrongly gave her surname as Mansouri-Hamedani, not Sedighi-Hamedani.
But Sareh is still accused of the ill-defined offense of “corruption on earth” over her online activities related to LGBT+ rights. If upheld, this carries the death sentence in Iran.
“Currently,” Sadr told IranWire, “the main concern is how this case will be handled by the Revolutionary Court. Campaigns for Sareh’s release need to continue. A person exercising their freedom of expression online cannot be considered ‘corruption’ or a punishable offence.”