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Gay Iranian man dead in alleged 'honor killing,' rights group says

An Iranian LGBTQ advocacy goup said the circumstances of the man’s death highlight the danger of a military exemption policy.

Ali Fazeli Monfared, a 20-year-old gay Iranian man, was allegedly killed in an “honor killing” by some of his male family members after they found out he was gay, according to an LGBTQ rights group in Iran and Turkey.

Fazeli Monfared, who was known as Alireza by friends and family, lived in a city in southwest Iran. He had applied for an exemption from compulsory military service so he could leave the country and move to Turkey to live with his close friend, Aghil Bayat, according to 6Rang, the Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network.

Though homosexual conduct is criminalized in Iran, part of the military exemption law allows gay and transgender people to receive a medical exemption from service for their identity. The law states, in part, “a person can be freed from his military service duties, if he is ‘mentally ill’ (homosexual).”

Fazeli Monfared received an exemption card in the mail from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after disclosing his homosexuality, but one of his male relatives found it and discovered he was gay, according to 6Rang. The organization reported the relative had previously told Fazeli Monfared’s father that the young man had dishonored the family due to the way he dressed.

BBC Persian reported Friday that it received audio recordings of Fazeli Monfared saying his family had threatened his life.

After finding the exemption card, a group of male relatives took Fazeli Monfared to a rural village near Ahvaz on May 4 and killed him, Shadi Amin, executive director of 6Rang, told NBC News. The card, and the exemption for homosexuality as a disease, put Fazeli Monfared in danger, she said.

“We think that because of his gender expression and his behaviors, they knew that he is homosexual, but it was proof that shows he wants to leave the country, and he is a gay man,” Amin said. “We are trying to use this story to challenge the Iranian government … to remove this paragraph [in the exemption law] and the reason on the exemption cards.”

Bayat told 6Rang the alleged killers had called Fazeli Monfared’s mother and told her where to find her only son’s beheaded body.

Though 6Rang first reported that police arrested the three men involved in Fazeli Monfared’s death, Amin said that isn’t accurate and no arrests have been made. She said police told Fazeli Monfared’s mother they made arrests in the case to calm her down.

But Amin said she thinks arrests will be made in the case because Fazeli Monfared comes from a wealthy family, and his father is angry about his death. She added that though Iran criminalizes homosexual conduct, it isn’t illegal to be gay. If Fazeli Monfared’s alleged killers had caught him having sex with a man, then they might receive lesser punishments for his death.

Iran is one of an estimated 11 countries where same-sex sexual acts are punishable by death, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, and one of almost 70 countries where it is criminalized, according to Human Rights Watch, an international human rights group based in New York. In Iran, punishments for homosexual conduct range from 31 to 100 lashes to death, according to Human Rights Watch.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif defended the country’s death penalty punishment for homosexual conduct during a press conference in June 2019. "These are moral principles regarding the behavior of people in general,” he said at the time, according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

There are no statistics or records of the number of anti-LGBTQ “honor killings” — which are perpetrated by relatives who feel the LGBTQ person has brought “dishonor” to the family — that happen in Iran or other countries that criminalize homosexuality, Tara Sepehri Far, who investigates human rights abuses in Iran and Kuwait for Human Rights Watch, told NBC News.

She said Fazeli Monfared’s case highlights the importance of the role of the family in LGBTQ people’s lives when the state criminalizes who they are.

“In the context that the LGBT community is not protected by law — and there’s actually a serious threat to their rights and even safety — the role of the family is becoming even more important,” Sepehri Far said, adding that if you’re coming from a family that accepts you, you can have access to safer spaces and communities.

According to a 2020 survey from 6Rang, nearly 63 percent of Iranian LGBTQ people reported experiencing violence perpetrated by their nuclear family.

The military exemption cards increase that risk of violence and discrimination from family, employers, law enforcement or anyone else who could find the person’s exemption card, Amin said.

“When they have it in their pocket, it is like a ticking bomb for them,” she said.

The process of receiving an exemption is also itself dangerous, Sepehri Far said, because it forces someone to come out as LGBTQ to the government.

“Exposing that to the very same authorities who, in theory, have the authority to arrest and prosecute you is very risky,” she said.

Amin said other countries should pressure Iran to remove the law criminalizing homosexuality and the death penalty “because this is the reason why the families, they allow themselves to have the right to violate their children.”

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