Iran sentences 2 women to death for ‘human trafficking’

Iran has sentenced two women to death on charges of human trafficking, the country’s official IRNA news agency reported Monday, a penalty that has gained widespread condemnation online.

Authorities accused the women — identified as Zahra Sedighi and Elham Chobdar — of “corruption on earth,” a term often used to describe attempts to undermine the Iranian government, saying they exploited young women. However, foreign-based rights groups described the two women as local gay and lesbian rights activists.

IRNA made no reference to the women’s activism, reporting that they “misused” women and girls in promising better training and job opportunities abroad — a reference to human trafficking. A revolutionary court in the country’s northwestern city of Urmia, some 600 kilometers (370 miles) northwest of Tehran, handed down the death sentences. The women have the right to appeal.

International rights watchdog Amnesty International identified Sedighi earlier this year as an “Iranian gender nonconforming human rights defender,” describing her monthslong detention as stemming from her “sexual orientation and gender identity as well as her social media posts and statements in defense of LGBTI rights.”

A report on Ms Sedighi’s arrest from the Revolutionary Guard said she had been “smuggling Iranian girls and women to neighbouring countries for the purpose of corruption and directing and supporting homosexual groups.”

The sentences were handed down by a “revolutionary court” in the north-west city of Urmia.

While Iran allows people to legally change sex through sex reassignment surgery and boasts the second-highest number of sex changes after Thailand, homosexual activity is still punished by death.

Some campaigners have reported pressure on homosexuals to undergo sex changes so they are attracted to the “right” sex.

Two men were reportedly executed for having sex earlier this year.

Iran Human Rights Monitor says LGBT activists have reported an intensified crackdown on gay rights over the past two years.

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