Close to 11,000 people have signed a petition calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Zahra Sedighi-Hamedani and two other women who face the death sentence in Iran for LGBT+ rights activism.
Sedighi-Hamedani, a 31-year-old blogger known online as Sareh, and Elham Chubdar, 24, were convicted of “corruption on earth” by a court in Urmia this week for “promoting homosexuality”, “promoting Christianity” and talking to media outlets based outside Iran.
The pair were arrested together with a third woman, Soheila Ashrafi, 52, late last year and held for months without access to a lawyer. An IRGC-affiliated news agency accused them without evidence of running a trafficking ring in Erbil.
The sentence meted out to Sareh and Chubdar has been met with horror by Iranian observers and human rights advocates, who took to social media under the hashtags “Zahra Sedighi”, “Elham Chubdar” and “Being LGBTQ is not a crime” to condemn the verdict.
A campaign for their release was first launched on August 28 of this year by Iranian LGBT+ advocacy group Shesh-Rang, together with ILGA (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) Asia and 55 other organizations.
“It is clear to all of us 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,” they said in a joint statement.
“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.”
Homosexuality by itself is a capital crime in Iran, but defendants are generally accused of other, often fictitious, crimes as well in order to “justify” the death sentence.
The decision by the Revolutionary Court of Urmia came shortly after a hate-filled speech on September 1 by President Ebrahim Raisi, in which the premier called homosexuality “ugly and despicable”. In 2014, while serving in the Iranian judiciary, he delivered a similar anti-gay tirade in which he said same-sex relations were “nothing but savagery.”