Out in the World: Iran sentences 2 women to death

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Friday September 23, 2022
Share this Post:
Iranian LGBTQ activist Zahra Seddiqi Hamedani was sentenced to death by an Iranian court. Photo: Courtesy CNN
Iranian LGBTQ activist Zahra Seddiqi Hamedani was sentenced to death by an Iranian court. Photo: Courtesy CNN

Two Iranian women sentenced to death earlier this month for "promoting homosexuality" and "corruption on earth" are drawing condemnation from the European Union and human rights groups.

The Revolutionary Court of Urmia, the capital of West Azerbaijan Province of Iran, sentenced Zahra Seddiqi Hamedani, 31, better known online as Sareh, and Elham Chobdar, 24, to death September 5. Seddiqi Hamedani identifies as queer.

Media reports surfaced about the sentences on September 6.

The sentences came 10 months after Seddiqi Hamedani's detainment and arrest on the Iran-Turkey border and after an anti-LGBTQ speech by President Ebrahim Raisi September 1 where he called homosexuality "very ugly and despicable," reported IranWire, an independent citizen journalist media outlet.

A third woman, Soheila Ashrafi, 52, being held alongside them at Urmia Central Prison in Iran, awaits her verdict.

The two women are accused of allegedly "promoting homosexuality," "promoting Christianity," and "communicating with the hostile media outside the Islamic Republic." Seddiqi Hamedani and Chobdar were convicted of "corruption on earth." The charge is deliberately undefined under the Islamic Penal Code. The judiciary's Mizan News Agency claimed the charge was in connection with "human trafficking."

E.U. Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell condemned Iran for sentencing Sedighi-Hamedani and told Reuters, "The E.U. is also firmly opposed to all forms of criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity."

Seddiqi Hamedani describes herself as an LGBTQ activist, business owner, aspiring singer, mother, and queer woman. Seddiqi Hamedani owns a cosmetics and health products company, Ebru Polat, with her partner. She has two children with her ex-husband. Her family's names were not included in the report.

Before she was arrested and detained, Seddiqi Hamedani was helping other LGBTQ Iranians accept themselves in online queer spaces.

"I was always alone in my difficult days," Seddiqi Hamedani told IranWire about her growing up alone and her desire to help queer people not go down a similar path. "The important thing is that I believe in myself, and I know what I'm about."

Seddiqi Hamedani appeared openly in a segment about LGBTQ Iranians for BBC Persian in 2021. She told IranWire that she thought she would be safe.

Soon after the documentary aired, she was arrested and detained in Iraq, IranWire reported.

"I was detained in Iraq for 21 days because of my interview with the BBC," she told IranWire. "I was tortured and put in solitary confinement."

Seddiqi Hamedani was released on bail. She escaped Iraq and was traveling to Turkey when she was captured on the Iran-Turkey border.

Iran's government launched a media campaign stating there were several arrests made involving "forming a female trafficking gang and supporting homosexuals" in the area, reported IranWire. The reports didn't name Seddiqi Hamedani outright in initial reports. In later media reports, it named Seddiqi Hamedani for running a "corruption gang."

Throughout her incarceration, she was denied access to a lawyer, she told IranWire.

AllOut Action has launched a petition calling for Seddiqi Hamedani and Chobdar to be released.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.