Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises sex between men
  • Criminalises sex between women
  • Death penalty applies
Penal Code 1991, Articles 108-126 Sodomy

Articles 108-126 of the Penal Code criminalise sodomy, which is defined under Article 108 as “sexual intercourse with a male.” Article 110 stipulates that the punishment for sodomy is killing. The Penal Code also provides penalties for acts other than intercourse, such as “the rubbing of the thighs or buttocks” (Article 121) and kissing “with lust” (Article 124).1

Penal Code 1991, Articles 127-134 Lesbianism

Articles 127-134 of the Penal Code prohibit lesbianism, which is defined under Article 127 as “homosexuality of women by genitals”, which carries a punishment of 100 lashes under Article 129.2



The US Department of State Human Rights Report on Iran states that the law is enforced actively and does not distinguish between consensual and non-consensual same-sex intercourse, and NGOs reported this lack of clarity led to both the victim and the perpetrator being held criminally liable under the law in cases of assault. It further states that those accused of “sodomy” often faced summary trials where evidentiary standards were not always met.


According to the US Department of State Human Rights Report, on 8 October, 17 individuals were arrested and others beaten at an alleged “gay birthday party”. No charges were eventually filed.


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. Reporters, lawyers, or family members who dare to speak up about these cases or to challenge the court‘s ruling can face harassment and even persecution by the government. In these cases, the judges often rely on the knowledge of the judge to determine the guilt of the defendant, though according to the law, the ―knowledge of the Judge should be based on facts and evidence and not in substitution of the facts.”3


In a 2010 report, Human Rights Watch commented: “In recent years there has been considerable debate regarding how many individuals have been executed by the state for having committed same-sex acts, if those executed had engaged in consensual sex (or any sex at all) or not, and whether the state specifically targets homosexuals for execution. Notwithstanding these debates, the fact remains that Iranian law provides the death penalty for consensual same-sex acts, the threat of execution hangs above all Iranians who engage in such acts, and Iran‘s sexual minorities are disproportionately affected by these discriminatory laws.”

Statements by Public Figures


In an interview with Piers Morgan, former President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, commented on homosexuality: “I’m sorry. Let me ask you this. Do you believe that anyone is giving birth through homosexuality? Homosexuality ceases procreation. Who has said that if you like or believe in doing something ugly, and others do not accept your behaviour, that they’re denying your freedom?… Proper education must be given… the education system must be revamped. The political system must be revamped. And these must be also reformed, revamped along the way. But if you, if a group recognizes an ugly behaviour or ugly deed as legitimate, you must not expect other countries or other groups to give it the same recognition.”

Who has said that if you like or believe in doing something ugly, and others do not accept your behaviour, that they’re denying your freedom?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Former President

Persecution and Discrimination


The US Department of State Human Rights Report on Iran states that “security forces harassed, arrested, and detained individuals they suspected of being gay or transgender”, and in some cases security forces raided houses and monitored internet sites for information on LGBT persons.

According to international and local media reports, on 13 April at least 30 men suspected of homosexual conduct were arrested by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps agents at a private party in Isfahan Province, and weapons were allegedly used. According to the Canadian NGO, Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, those arrested were taken to Dastgerd Prison in Isfahan where they were told they would be executed. The Iranian LGBT activist group 6Rang noted that, following similar raids, those arrested and similarly charged were subjected to forced “anal” or “sodomy” tests and other degrading treatment and sexual insults.


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.”

Unlike many countries, 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. As a 2014 report submitted to the UPR for Iran comments: “The choices are stark. Undergo reparative therapies, hormone treatments and sterilization surgeries in order to obtain legal gender recognition, which would then ensure the right to have privacy, marry and found a family, and access education and employment without discrimination on grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation? Or preserve the right to sexual and reproductive health by refusing to undergo hormone treatments and sterilization surgeries, resulting in lack of legal gender recognition and continuous exposure to discrimination, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment?” It should be noted that the Special Rapporteur on torture has recommended that forced or coerced sterilisation for legal gender recognition should be outlawed.

Legislative News


During its second UPR cycle, Iran noted all the recommendations it received concerning decriminalising consensual same-sex activities between adults, preventing discrimination against LGBT individuals, and preventing any practice which can harm their dignity, such as unnecessary sex reassignment surgery, especially when carried out without duly informed consent.


In 2009 a new Penal Code was ratified by the Islamic Consultative Assembly and again by the Guardian Council in 2013.


During its first UPR cycle, Iran rejected recommendations to decriminalise consensual same-sex sexual relations: “The principled position of Iran on sexual orientation is crystal clear. The issue of same sex marriage is in full contradiction with domestic laws and regulations and Iran does consider it neither as legal issue nor as an issue of human rights”.

1. Penal Code 1991, Articles 108-126 Sodomy

“Article 108: Sodomy is sexual intercourse with a male.

Article 109: In case of sodomy both the active and the passive persons will be condemned to its punishment.

Article 110: Punishment for sodomy is killing; the Sharia judge decides on how to carry out the killing.

Article 111: Sodomy involves killing if both the active and passive persons are mature, of sound mind and have free will.” Full text.

2. Penal Code 1991, Articles 127-134 Lesbianism

“Article 127: Mosaheqeh (lesbianism) is homosexuality of women by genitals.

Article 128: The ways of proving lesbianism in court are the same by which the homosexuality (of men) is proved.

Article 129: Punishment for lesbianism is hundred (100) lashes for each party.

Article 130: Punishment for lesbianism will be established vis-a -vis someone who is mature, of sound mind, has free will and intention.

Note: In the punishment for lesbianism there will be no distinction between the doer and the subject as well as a Muslim or non-Muslim.” Full text.

3. UK Home Office

UK Home Office, ‘Iran Country of Origin Information (COI) Report’ (Gov UK 26 September 2013), accessed 20 September 2014.

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