Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises LGBT people
  • Criminalises sexual activity between males
  • Criminalises sexual activity between females
  • Imposes the death penalty

Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the Penal Code 2013, which criminalises acts of ‘livat’, ‘tafkhiz’, ‘musaheqeh’, and other intimate acts. These provisions carry a maximum penalty of death. Both men and women are criminalised under this law.

These provisions have their origins in Islamic law, with Iran adopting a criminal code based upon Sharia principles. While same-sex acts have historically been criminalised in Iran and its predecessor states, there is evidence that they were largely tolerated until the 1979 Revolution.

There is significant evidence of the law being enforced in recent years, with LGBT people being frequently subject to arrest, which can result in the imposition of the death penalty. There have been consistent reports of discrimination and violence being committed against LGBT people in recent years, including murder, assault, harassment, denial of basic rights and services.



In March, after months of international advocacy campaign, LGBT activist Elham Choubdar was released on bail. Zahra Sedighi-Hamadani, who had been imprisoned with her, was released on bail in May. Their death sentences were overturned.


In February, it was reported that two men had been executed after being convicted for same-sex sexual activity six years previously.

In September, it was reported that two women, Zahra Sedighi-Hamadani and Elham Choubdar, had been sentenced to death on charges of “corruption on earth” and human trafficking. Activists and advocates claimed that the two women had been targeted because they were LGBT activists. The sentence was condemned by the European Union. In response to the sentence a group of UN experts condemned the move, calling for a stay of execution.

We strongly condemn the sentencing . . . to death and call on authorities to stay their executions and annul their sentences as soon as possible.

UN Expert Statement


In July, two men were executed on ‘sodomy’ charges.


The US Department of State report found that security forces harassed, arrested, and detained individuals suspected of being LGBT. Those accused of sodomy often faced summary trials in which evidentiary standards were not met. Although few details were available of specific cases, it was reported that the government executed LGBT people under the pretext of serious criminal charges such as rape.

In January, it was reported that a 31-year-old gay man had been publicly executed by hanging.


In June, the Foreign Minister appeared to defend executions of LGBT people in response to a question by a journalist in Germany.


In April, 30 men were arrested at a gathering in central Iran, transferred to Dastgerd Prison and charged with sodomy by a local court.


In July, a 17-year-old boy, Hassan Afshar, was hanged following a conviction for raping another teenager, despite repeatedly maintaining that the sexual acts had been consensual.


report found that since at least 2007, there have been a number of state-led raids on private parties followed by mass arrests and detention on suspicion of same-sex sexual acts. Following their arrests, detainees are often forced to reveal the names of other LGBT people.

In August, two men were executed by hanging for consensual same-sex intimacy.


In its submission to the Human Rights Committee, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (now OutRight Action International) stated: “[I]ndividuals have been convicted of sodomy based on pre-trial admissions, recanted testimony, confessions extracted by means of torture, testimony by less than four witnesses, and sometimes without any testimony or admission at all. Some accused of sodomy have been convicted without understanding the charges against them. Some have been convicted without access to counsel. There are reports that human rights defenders have been charged with sodomy as a ploy to discredit them. Lawyers defending clients charged with sodomy report limited access to their clients.”

Discrimination and Violence


In July, the head of culture and Islamic guidance in Gilan province, Reza Tsaghati, was dismissed from his position after allegedly engaging in gay sex in a video posted online.

In September, 6Rang, an Iranian lesbian and transgender network, released a report showing that, in the 2022-23 protests following Mahsa Amini’s death in custody of the ‘morality police’, LGBT protesters were highly targeted, persecuted and harassed by security forces based on their perceived gender identity and sexual orientation. LGBT youth were very visible during the protests, changing the slogan ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ for ‘Queer, Life, Freedom’.


In September, 16-year-old queer activist Nika Shakarami was forcibly disappeared and murdered during the protests following Mahsa Amini’s death. A CNN investigation confirmed that Iranian security forces are responsible for Nika’s death.


In May, Alireza Fazeli Monfared, a 20-year-old who identified as a non-binary gay man, was abducted and murdered by several family members seemingly on the basis of his sexual orientation and gender identity. Reports suggest that Alireza, who had been subjected to years of discrimination and abuse for his sexuality and gender non-conformity, was just days away from leaving Iran to seek asylum abroad before his identity was discovered after a family member opened a letter to Alireza exempting him from military service. Under Iranian law, ‘sexual perversions and homosexuality’ are considered a mental illness and are grounds for military exemption.


The US Department of State report quoted the Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network (6Rang) which found that individuals arrested on suspicion of being LGBT were often subjected to forced anal ‘examinations’. Furthermore, 6Rang found that 15% of LGBT reported being victims of sexual violence at school or university, and 42% in public spaces. Respondents to this survey also reported being beaten, detained, and flogged by security authorities. LGBT material was censored by the government, and websites discussing LGBT issues were blocked. LGBT people were subjected to forced and violating psychiatric and medical treatment.


In June, Hossein Alizadeh, Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (now OutRight Action International), testified to the US Joint Subcommittee Hearing: One Year under Rouhani: Iran’s Absysmal Human Rights Record, commenting on the human rights abuses of LGBT individuals in Iran: The criminal law notes that adult same-sex sexual acts are punishable by death. These legal provisions are based on a reading of religion that considers any sexual act outside heterosexual marriage to be impermissible. The punishment is severe, and this view continues to be expressed in the public spheres of many countries, including the United States. In today’s Iran, any open conversation or discussion about sexual rights, gender equality, and homosexuality is met with violent reaction from both the judicial and law enforcement bodies.”

The 2014 UPR cycle noted that, unlike many countries which criminalise same-sex sexual activity, Iran does allow for legal gender change. Whilst this does provide some potential reprieve for LGBT individuals in the country, the requirement of sterilisation can add an additional burden to those individuals not wishing to be captured by the country’s anti-homosexuality provisions.


On 8 October, 17 individuals were arrested, interrogated, and some beaten following the raiding of an alleged “gay birthday party”. No charges were eventually filed.


Related Countries


Iraq criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Possible sentences are unclear, but the death penalty has been imposed on LGBT people.


Afghanistan criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of death.


Pakistan criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men. Sentences include a maximum penalty of ten years’ imprisonment and a fine.

Local Organisations

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