Pressure Mounts on Both Sides As Iran Proceeds to Stone Gay Man

by Steve Weinstein

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday August 10, 2010

Eighteen year old Ebrahim Hamidi has been sentenced to death by a court in the Iranian city of Tabriz, on charges that he sexually assaulted another man. His accuser has since withdrawn the assault claim in a sworn affidavit, admitting that he lied under parental pressure. But Ebrahim is still scheduled to hang.

As reported by respected British human-rights activist Peter Tatchell, the accusation began in a not-at-all unusual way: as retribution for a business (usually agriculture) dispute having nothing to do with sexual issues.

Two years ago, the alleged sex attack victim was caught by Ebrahim damaging his father's crops. There had been a history of feuding between their families. A fist fight ensued, involving Ebrahim and some friends. During the fracas, the accuser's trousers slipped down several inches, which he claimed was evidence of a sexual assault.

Two hours later, Ebrahim and three friends were arrested on sodomy charges and tortured in a detention centre for three days. Ebrahim was hanged upside down by his legs and badly beaten. To stop this abuse, he signed a confession.

There is no evidence that Ebrahim is gay or that a sexual assault took place; just the word of one person against another and a confession under torture, which was later retracted.

At his first trial in 2008, Ebrahim was sentenced to hang on the the basis of the "knowledge of the judge" - a bizarre legal protocol whereby, in the absence of sufficient evidence to convict in sodomy and adultery cases, a judge is free to assess that a person is guilty.

Ebrahim's death sentence is in defiance of the Supreme Court of Iran, which has twice rejected the local court's guilty verdict and ordered a re-examination of the case, citing errors in the legal investigation and an "issue of doubt." These two Supreme Court rulings against conviction and execution have been ignored by the judiciary in Tabriz.

At the third and most recent trial in June, Ebrahim's three co-defendants were acquitted. He was not. Two of the five Tabriz judges cleared him of all charges but the other three upheld his execution order.

Soon afterwards, a third appeal was submitted to the Supreme Court. Alas, at this crucial stage in his appeal, Ebrahim suddenly has no legal representation, which puts him in great peril. His lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, was forced into hiding after a warrant was issued for his arrest. He has since fled Iran, fearing that the government was planning to jail him over his highly publicised efforts to stop the stoning to death of a 43 year old woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, on charges of adultery. She, too, was sentenced by a Tabriz court.

Newsweek is reporting that Mostafaei has saved many clients from unjust executions for a variety of crimes that fall under the Moslem Sharia law that has been adapted by the country.

"Mostafaei became a marked man for the embarrassment he'd caused the Iranian government in the international community. Meanwhile, everyone from the United Nations to Lindsay Lohan has begun to pick up the stories of people being stoned for that in other nations would be considered minor sexual transgressions -- or no transgressions at all.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).