Iran defends execution of gay people

The US and Germany have condemned Iran after its foreign minister defended the policy of execution for homosexuality. The issue erupted after a pointed question from a German reporter.

The US on Wednesday accused Iran of violating fundamental human rights after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Sarif endorsed the execution of gay people.

Sarif defended his country's draconian policies at a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Tehran on Monday.

A reporter from German tabloid Bild asked: "Why are homosexuals executed in Iran because of their sexual orientation?"

He responded: "Our society has moral principles. And we live according to these principles. These are moral principles concerning the behavior of people in general. And that means that the law is respected and the law is obeyed," after railing against human rights violations by the US and Israel.

Maas, who was in Iran to negotiate the continuation of the nuclear deal, largely ignored the issue at the time.

Read more: Amnesty International reports global drop in executions

Shadi Amin, an Iranian writer and activist who now lives in Germany, told DW-Farsi that she was "outraged" by the Iranian foreign minister's comments. "Humiliation, repression and sexual harassment of a particular social group should be viewed critically and prohibited by law," Amin said.

"Violating LGBT rights under the guise of 'moral principles' shows that Zarif doesn't respect human rights. LGBT rights are human rights. Iran must not violate them by giving religious or cultural reasons," she said. "New laws have made societies aware of the differences and accept them."

"Many homosexuals tell us of abuse, torture and threats faced by their families and friends. As long as the country's laws do not change, the situation of homosexuals in Iran will not improve," said Amin. 

Iran's Islamic Revolution 40 years on

'I feel nothing'

On February 1, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran from exile in France. When a reporter asked him how he felt upon his return to Iran, Khomeini replied: "Nothing — I feel nothing." Some analysts interpreted his remarks as the Shiite leader's idea about embarking on a "divine mission" where emotions hardly mattered.

Iran's Islamic Revolution 40 years on

The Shah ran out of time

Two months before Khomeini's return to Iran, an estimated six to nine million people took to the streets in the country's major cities. The demonstrations were largely peaceful, compared to the violent September 8, 1978, protests. The Shah regime, headed by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, had realized that its time in power was over and that they could not stop Khomeini's return.

Iran's Islamic Revolution 40 years on

Even women rooted for Khomeini

The revolutionary mood was so intense in Tehran that even many women celebrated Khomeini's return, ignoring the fact that Khomeini had slammed Shah's measures for women's emancipation in exile. In 1963, the Shah of Iran granted women the right to vote.

Iran's Islamic Revolution 40 years on

A spectacle of exuberance

In 1971, the Shah and his wife Farah Diba (seen in the picture) staged a lavish spectacle on the ancient site of Persepolis to mark the "2,500th anniversary of the Iranian monarchy." Many heads of state attended the event. Khomeini, in his message from exile, condemned the monarchy as "cruel, evil and un-Islamic."

Iran's Islamic Revolution 40 years on

Exile and death

Under pressure from the Islamic Revolution, the Shah (left) had left Iran on January 16, 1979. After spending time in several countries, he succumbed to cancer on July 27, 1980 in Cairo, Egypt.

Iran's Islamic Revolution 40 years on

Consolidating power

In the beginning, women's rights were not a major issue for the Islamic revolutionaries. They only imposed hardline Islam after consolidating their victory.

Iran's Islamic Revolution 40 years on

Soldiers join the revolution

Upon Khomeini's return to Iran in 1979, the military did not confront the protesters. On February 11, the army declared itself neutral. Despite that, the revolutionaries executed several generals in February and April.

Iran's Islamic Revolution 40 years on

New government

Soon after his return, Khomeini declared the monarchy, the previous government and parliament illegal, and said he would appoint a government "because of the fact that this nation believes in me." According to Iran experts, it was not self-deception but reality.

Iran's Islamic Revolution 40 years on

The liberal face of the revolution

Mehdi Bazargan, a scholar and pro-democracy activist, had campaigned against the Pahlavi dynasty, for which he had been incarcerated for several years. Khomeini appointed him as his first prime minister, although Bazargan was critical of him as well. Bazargan had called Khomeini a "turbaned Shah" after a meeting with the Ayatollah in Paris. He remained in office for only nine months.

Iran's Islamic Revolution 40 years on

Occupation of the US Embassy

In November 1979, radical Iranian students seized the US Embassy in Tehran and took the embassy staff hostage. The students were fearful of Shah's return to power with US help. Khomeini took advantage of the situation. He dismissed his opponents as "US allies."

Iran's Islamic Revolution 40 years on

Ali Khamenei – guardian of the revolution

In 1989, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was elected by the expert council to succeed Khomeini. Khamenei, to this date, has the ultimate power over all state institutions. Although the 79-year-old does not have the same charisma as his predecessor, he represents the policies of Iranian hardliners who refuse to reform the system and continue to persecute dissidents.

Inhuman and unacceptable

The German Foreign Ministry's Michael Roth later clarified to Bild: "LGBTI rights are human rights. And they have always been. Everywhere. No religious, cultural or ethnic tradition justifies state persecution, especially the execution of homosexuals. In Iran and seven other countries worldwide, homosexuals face the death penalty. That is inhuman and completely unacceptable."

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His comments came after Maas was criticized by German politicians for not addressing the issue at the time.

The US ambassador to Germany and the country's most senior openly-gay official, Richard Grenell, on Wednesday slammed Iran for its position in comments to German and Israeli media.

"The Iranian regime has violated basic principles of the United Nations," he told the German Press Agency (DPA).

"UN members should honor (the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights) if they want to be members at all. The criminalization of homosexuality plainly violates this declaration."

Homosexuality violates Islamic Law in Iran and can be punishable by death. Several thousand people have been executed for homosexuality since the 1979 Islamic revolution, according to some rights activists.