Iran: Joint Open Letter to Iranian President Rouhani

Published: December 20, 2013

His Excellency

Dr. Hassan Rouhani
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Pasteur Square, Pasteur Street
Islamic Republic of Iran
20 December 2013
Your Excellency,
We, the undersigned representatives of human rights and civil society organizations, are writing to express our concern at the continuing and systematic state persecution of individuals perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. For at least the past decade, the authorities have used articles of the Islamic Penal Code criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual relations, along with other laws and regulations governing dress, public conduct, online communications, public employment, and the press and publications to target individuals based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity, or even based on their opinions about these issues.
The arbitrary arrest, conviction, and punishment of individuals based on their alleged sexual orientation or gender identity or their expressed opinions on such matters, violates the Iranian government’s obligations under international law. Such practices contradict the safeguards and guarantees provided in the Iranian constitution to protect the fundamental rights and dignity of all.
You may recall that during the election campaign you acknowledged the importance of freedom of expression; the need to allow government criticism to make way for true progress and that you promised to improve women’s rights. During your first speech following your election you said that you would “never forget the promises [you] made to the Iranian people”. 
Now, as the government considers the scope of the Charter of Citizens’ Rights, in advance of it becoming draft legislation, we urge your government to carefully assess the suggestions made by a range of individuals and organizations. Likewise, we urge you to carefully note the issues set out in this letter and the recommendations made by our respective organizations.
The current Islamic Penal Code criminalizes any freely and mutually agreed same-sex relations, with punishment ranging from 100 lashes for consensual sexual relations between women (Article 239) to the death penalty for consensual sexual intercourse between men (Article 234). The law also criminalizes other acts between members of the same sex, including touching and intimate kissing, which are punishable by up to 74 lashes (Article 237). We believe these laws, which Iranian officials frequently justify as legal manifestations of the society’s religious and cultural values, are inherently discriminatory and prejudicial against vulnerable segments of the population, and flagrantly violate Iran’s international obligations.
The government of Iran is a state party to both the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Both the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee and the UN Economic and Social Council, the UN bodies authorized to interpret a state’s obligations under the ICCPR and ICESCR respectively, have repeatedly called on all state parties, including Iran, to repeal laws criminalizing same-sex conduct. Section 10 of the November 2011 Concluding Observations by the UN Human Rights Committee on the third periodic report of the Islamic Republic of Iran (CCPR/C/IRN/CO/3) and Section 7 of the May 2013 Concluding Observations by the UN Economic and Social Council on the second periodic report of the Islamic Republic of Iran (E/C.12/IRN/CO/2) are very specific and clear in objecting to Iran’s criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct and its discrimination against and prosecution and punishment of people for their sexual orientation or gender identity. In the past, the UN Human Rights Committee has rejected the argument that criminalization of same-sex conduct may be justified as “reasonable” on grounds of protection of public morals, noting that the use of criminal law in such circumstances is neither necessary nor proportionate to the nature of the act, especially since under Article 6 of the ICCPR, in countries that have not abolished the death penalty, “sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes.”
Furthermore, government officials, Basiji militia members, and law enforcement and intelligence agents have often used the criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct as an excuse to impose monitoring and regulation on private relations between consenting individuals, as an excuse to violate the fundamental rights of individuals alleged to be involved in same-sex sexual relations. 
The most recent example of such a violation of individual rights took place during a massive raid by around 50 members of the Nabi Akram Brigade of the Revolutionary Guards on a peaceful, private birthday function on Tuesday October 8, 2013, in Arg Hall, a reception hall in a suburb of the city of Kermanshah in western Iran.
According to a statement issued by Kermanshah Province’s Basij Forces, their goal was to disband an alleged “homosexual and Satan-worshipping network with dozens of [members].” The official statement of the Basij confirmed that the people attending the party had been “under surveillance for several months by the Revolutionary Guard’s Security Unit.” Such intrusion of an individual’s privacy, based solely on speculations about the person’s sexual orientation, violates the individual’s right to privacy, as articulated in Articles 22 and 25 of the Iranian constitution. 
According to witnesses, armed members of the security forces verbally abused, assaulted, and beat many of the 80 or so people attending the party, as well as waiters and other staff. Some officials used pepper spray on the participants while others shocked them with electric batons. Witnesses said security forces gathered and divided the attendees into small groups, and confiscated their electronic devices, including their cell phones and cameras, fingerprinted, filmed, and photographed them, and recorded their contact and personal information. Officers severely beat several participants who refused to surrender their private belongings. 
Officers took at least 17 individuals into custody, blindfolded them, and without explanation, transported them to a nearby, but secret, detention center. The undersigned human rights groups have received accounts of severe mistreatment at this location, as officials reportedly sought to force the detainees into confessing that they had engaged in unlawful conduct. Accounts included the stripping of individuals naked and filming them; beating; and preparing them for mock execution. By Monday, October 14, 2013, officials released all of those who had been arrested and told them that they would face charges in coming weeks.
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