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Iran court sentences two activists to death for ‘promoting homosexuality’

Zahra (Sareh) Sedighi arrested at Turkish border last October

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Zahra (Sareh) Sedighi. (Photo courtesy of the Mizan News Agency via Iran Human Rights)

A court in Iran has sentenced two LGBTQ and intersex activists to death after their arrest for “promoting homosexuality.”

Iran Human Rights, a Norway-based NGO that champions human rights in Iran, on Tuesday noted the Urmia Revolutionary Court in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province sentenced Zahra (Sareh) Sedighi, 31, and Elham Coobdar, 24, to death after it convicted them of “corruption on earth” charges.

Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps on Oct. 27, 2021, arrested Sedighi while she was trying to enter Turkey. 

Police in Iraqi Kurdistan reportedly detained Sedighi for three weeks after she spoke with BBC Persian about the treatment of LGBTQ and intersex people in the region. Sedighi had reportedly entered Iran in order to cross the country’s border with Turkey and ask for asylum.

Iran Human Rights cited Iranian media reports that said Sedighi and Coobdar faced charges of “deceiving and smuggling women and young girls to a regional country.”

“This is while human rights sources and LGBTQI+ activists stress that Zahra and Elham were arrested and convicted for their activism,” said Iran Human Rights. “This claim was confirmed in reports aired on IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) and other official media that cited ‘promoting homosexuality’ as one of the reasons for the two activists’ arrests.”

Iran Human Rights said Sedighi and Coobdar learned the court sentenced them to death on Sept. 1.

“Zahra Sadighi and Elham Choobdar were sentenced to death without due process and in unfair legal proceedings based on forced confessions,” said Iran Human Rights Director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam. “Their convictions have no legal validity. Islamic Republic authorities have also cited promoting homosexuality as one of the reasons for their arrests. Their lives can be saved by immediate and strong reactions by the international community and civil society.”

ILGA Asia on Tuesday described the death sentences as “concerning.”

Iran is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

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Middle East

Far-right Israeli politician vows to cancel Jerusalem Pride

Avi Maoz rebuked by Benjamin Netanyahu

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Avi Maoz (Screen capture via i24NEWS English YouTube)

A far-right Israeli politician on Wednesday said the country’s new government should not allow the annual Jerusalem Pride parade to take place.

Walla News Diplomatic Correspondent Barak Ravid noted Avi Maoz, a member of the Israeli Knesset who is a member of the far-right Noam party, told the Olam Katan newspaper the incoming government needs “to cancel the Jerusalem Pride parade.”

“It’s a disgrace,” said Maoz. “I am as serious as I can be. It didn’t come up in the coalition agreement, but I am not hiding, I want it cancelled.”

President Isaac Herzog has asked Netanyahu to form a government after his Likud Party won the election that took place on Nov. 1. Maoz’s party is among those that could form a coalition government with Netanyahu as prime minister.

WDG, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel, previously reported Maoz promotes an anti-LGBTQ agenda based on the preservation of family values.

Ravid noted Netanyahu has said the Jerusalem Pride parade “will continue.”

“My government will not harm the rights of the LGBT community or any of Israel’s citizens,” said Netanyahu. 

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Middle East

World Cup ambassador describes homosexuality as ‘damage in the mind’

Khalid Salman’s interview with German reporter abruptly ended

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Khalid Salman (Screenshot courtesy of YouTube)

World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman on Monday described homosexuality as “damage in the mind.”

Salman, a former Qatari soccer player, made the comment during an interview with a reporter from ZDF, a German television station, in Doha, the Qatari capital.

The former Qatari soccer player in response to the reporter’s question about the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations in his country described homosexuality as “haram” or “forbidden” under Sharia law. A member of the World Cup organizing committee abruptly stopped the interview after Salman made his comments. 

The 2022 World Cup is scheduled to begin in Doha on Nov. 20.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

Human Rights Watch last month in a report noted Qatari officials between 2019 and September 2022 “arbitrary arrested lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and subjected them to ill-treatment in detention.” 

The report documents six cases “of severe and repeated beatings” and five cases of “sexual harassment in police custody” during the aforementioned period.

“Security forces arrested people in public places based solely on their gender expression and unlawfully searched their phones,” said Human Rights Watch. “As a requirement for their release, security forces mandated that transgender women detainees attend conversion therapy sessions at a government-sponsored ‘behavioral support center.

Peter Tatchell, a British activist, on Oct. 25 protested the country’s LGBTQ and intersex rights record while standing outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha. Ten captains of European soccer teams that will compete in the World Cup have said they will wear “one love” armbands to show their support for LGBTQ and intersex people.

“They have to accept our rules here,” Salman told ZDF.

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Middle East

Israel election results could prove disastrous for LGBTQ community

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu poised to return to office

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo by shganti777/Bigstock)

WDG, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel, wrote this article.

Around five million Israelis voted in the elections that took place on Tuesday.

After five election campaigns in three and a half years, as of now it seems that the tie between the two (political) blocs has been broken. Benjamin Netanyahu will once again be prime minister and he will be the one to form the next government.

The results that are slowly coming in are extremely worrying for many Israelis, including members of the LGBTQ community.

The far right Hatzionut Hadatit (Religious Zionist Party), which includes Bezalel Smotrich, the organizer of the infamous Cattle Parade, a parade of cattle that marched at the same time as the Jerusalem Pride Parade, did well. Itamar Ben Gvir, who regularly protests against Pride parades and supports so-called conversion therapy, and Avi Maoz, whose anti-LGBTQ agenda is based on preserving family values, are also members of the party.

The Otzma Yehudit party and Hatzionut Hadatit include new, unfamiliar figures who may turn out to be much more extreme than Smotrich and Ben Gvir in regards to their attitudes towards LGBTQ people, women and other minorities.

Does the LGBTQ community have to worry about the election results?

Even before the formation of the government, it is already clear that LGBTQ representation in the Knesset will decrease. After a Knesset with five openly LGBTQ representatives, the next Knesset will have only three LGBTQ members and they will all be men: Amir Ohana from the Likud party and Yorai Lahav and Idan Roll from Yesh Atid.

Another concern for the LGBTQ community is the fear that Meretz, the first party that supported LGBTQ rights and has historically been the political home for the members of the LGBTQ community, will not earn enough seats to get its representatives into the Knesset, which would give the Netanyahu bloc a crushing victory.

The achievements achieved by the LGBTQ community in the previous Knesset may also be in danger. 

The LGBTQ community over the past year has managed to achieve a number of significant achievements that include the repeal of the ban on gay men from donating blood, the approval of surrogacy for male couples, reforms of the Committee for Gender Reassignment, the promotion of activities for LGBTQ Arabs and a budget of 90 million NIS ($24,460,991) for local authorities all over the country to carrying out activities for the benefit of the LGBTQ community.

Due to the complexity of the previous government that was made up of different parties from all ends of the political spectrum — from Naftali Bennett on the right to Meretz and Ra’am on the left — all of these achievements did not come through legislation, but through regulations that various ministers implemented. This fact may be to the community’s detriment, because new government ministers could just as easily reverse them.

The far-right’s goal of reforming the justice system could also hurt LGBTQ achievements, some of which resulted from Supreme Court decisions. The legislation of the Override Clause will give the Knesset the authority to re-enact a law that the High Court has invalidated, thereby overruling Supreme Court decisions.

Poll indicates most LGBTQ Israelis fear right-wing government

In a study the Israeli Institute for Gender and LGBTQ Research at the Aguda conducted before the election, 87 percent of LGBTQ Israelis said that they fear the next Knesset will violate their rights. This fear is not only from the lack of promotion of pro-LGBTQ legislation, but also from the promotion of regulations and laws that will actively harm LGBTQ organizations. 

If the right-wing government fulfills its promises, it would remove the LGBTQ education organization Hoshen from schools, end financial support for Israel Gay Youth, ban hormone treatments for transgender people and provide financial support for organizations that offer conversion therapy. And as we have learned during all the years of the LGBTQ struggle, when public figures incite against members of the community, this affects the public and the verbal cancellation turns into discrimination of LGBTQ people in businesses, bullying in schools against LGBTQ students and physical assaults in the street.

How LGBTQphobic will the next government be?

The results of the elections in Israel are the will of the Israeli voter. The people of Israel gave a significant power to parties that seek to harm the rights of the LGBTQ community, but these parties were not necessarily elected due to being anti-LGBTQ. 

The fact that Ben Gvir and Smotrich and their parties received significant support is not necessarily about LGBTQ issues, but it is mainly based on the state of internal security in Israel. Violence and crime in large areas of the country that have become no man’s land, the internal terrorism that culminated in riots in Arab Jewish cities in May 2021, and the disappointment of many from the right-wing parties that entered the last government together with an Arab party caused many voters, some of them LGBTQ, to vote for extreme right-wing parties.

Another parameter that helped Ben Gvir and Smotrich in the election is the timing. 

They entered an election system in which there is no other right-wing party except Likud. All the right-wing leaders (Avigdor Lieberman, Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar) moved towards the center-left and new, more extreme right-wing leaders who previously failed to enter the Knesset filled the vacuum.

The people of Israel are patiently waiting to see what the results will be and how the map of the blocks will look. We still won’t know which government will be formed, even after the final results are announced. Netanyahu will receive the mandate from the president and will begin the task of forming the government, which history has already taught us is impossible to predict how it will end. Israeli politics is unpredictable and full of surprises, and any possibility we didn’t think about can become a reality.

It is likely that in the first phase Netanyahu will choose to form a narrow right-wing government with his natural ultra-orthodox and Religious Zionist partners. In this case, Netanyahu will depend on extremist Zionist elements, such as Smotrich and Ben Gvir, and even Maoz, each of whom has the power to topple the government.  

The question is whether those parties will use their power to harm LGBTQ achievements and even enact anti-LGBTQ laws, and if so, how will the more liberal Likud members, LGBTQ members and their supporters, will react to these proposals, and whether both parties will be willing to endanger the right-wing government on this subject?

Later, difficulties at home, including excessive demands of the extreme parties, or international pressure from the outside, may cause Netanyahu to strive to expand the government, and perhaps even to replace the extreme elements with more moderate centrist elements such as Benny Gantz. Such a government would be less anti-LGBTQ, but even here the chance of promoting LGBTQ issues is almost non existent, and it is likely that there will be no progress with what will remain. No anti-LGBTQ laws will be promoted either.

Two points to consider

The first one is how the new Knesset members who proudly declared themselves to be LGBTQphobic will sit in a coalition and cooperated with Ohana, a gay MP and a father for two children who he had via surrogate. 

The second one is how will Netanyahu and the secular Likud members deal with the extreme demands of the religious parties, which range from the closing of places of entertainment on Shabbat, the termination of women’s service in the IDF, and the application of Torah laws to the judicial system.

“Just as the outgoing government protected the rights of all citizens of the country, the incoming government is also expected to do the same.,” outgoing Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, a member of the LGBTQ community who will not enter the next Knesset, said. “If Smotrich or Ben Gvir think they will harm women’s rights, LGBTQ or Arabs, a large and strong front will stand in front of them and will prevent this from them.”

Will the opposition to this new government will be strong and determine enough to stop these scenarios from happening? 

Only time will tell. 

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