Dr Grim writes:
Hassan Afshar was hanged in Arak Prison, Iran, last July, aged 19, after being convicted of forced intercourse with another boy when he was 17. He insisted that the relations had been consensual, but was sentenced to death two months after his arrest, after a rapid prosecution in which he had no access to a lawyer. His family was not notified of his execution.
Homosexual activity is illegal in Iran. It is punishable by imprisonment, corporal punishment or execution. The penetrative partner may get away with one hundred lashes if they are Muslim and the sex is consensual, but the penetrated partner faces the death sentence. Penetrated partners may describe consensual sexual activity as rape, to avoid execution, thus condemning their partner to death.
The policing of such ‘moral crimes’ falls to the Basiji, or religious police, who make it their business to deliver horrific warnings to those suspected, including threats, abductions, beatings and violent sexual assault in brutal parody of the very act that Iranian law forbids. The UK, in clear acknowledgement of the plight of gay men in the Islamic republic, grants asylum on that basis to those who make it here.
Numbers executed in Iran for their sexuality is unknown (although Amnesty claim it is over 5000 since 1979) but some, like Hasan Afshar, are extremely young. The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran reported in March this year on its extensive use of the death penalty, including for underage offences. International human rights instruments ratified by Iran impose an absolute ban on the execution of those under 18 at the time of their offence, regardless of the crime. Nevertheless, sentencing of children to death is still allowed under the 2013 Islamic Penal Code, and the minimum age of criminal responsibility remains 15 lunar years for boys and a horrifying 9 for girls, although they can’t be executed till they are 18. In late 2016, between 80 and 160 individuals convicted as children were reportedly on death row.
It seemed we could do little about Iran’s black and white view of morality whilst sanctions remained, but as they lift our government appears to be reaching once more for the rose- coloured spectacles. Last September we appointed an ambassador to Tehran. In January Iran received a visit from Middle East Minister Tobias Ellwood, which has received little coverage. The Department of Trade website states that it supports expanding our trade relationship with Iran. “There is a positive outlook for UK-Iran trade relations,” it trills. “Iran’s significant oil and gas reserves will be an important driver of economic growth.” Oddly, it goes on to suggest UK businesses should be aware of the “risk to a company’s reputation through work with people or organisations allegedly involved in human rights violations.” This sounds horribly unlike a blanket ban to Dr Grim, who rationalises that, since the entire government of Iran is involved in human rights violations, the very appointment of the ambassador risks the government’s own reputation (some mistake, surely?)