FOR A DEPUTY-PRESIDENT who likes to claim responsibility for drafting a Secular Constitution and Bill of Rights that includes Gay Rights and other freedoms associated with the LGBT community, a visit to Iran must present a number of awkward problems. Chief of which is the Iranian Penal Code.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Iran face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal. “Homosexuality is a crime punishable by imprisonment, corporal punishment, or by execution. The punishment for lesbianism (mosahegheh) involving persons who are mature, of sound mind, and consenting, is 50 lashes. If the act is repeated three times and punishment is enforced each time, the death sentence will apply on the fourth occasion” — Iranian Penal Code.
On January 23, 2008, Hamzeh Chavi, 18, and Loghman Hamzehpour, 19, were arrested in Sardasht, in Iranian Azerbaijan for homosexuality. An on-line petition for their release began to circulate around the internet. “They apparently confessed to the authorities that they were in a relationship and in love, prompting a court to charge them with Moharebeh (“waging war against God”) and Lavat (sodomy).”
At least 146 cases of executions of individuals charged with a “homosexual act” have been documented since 1979. A leading Iranian actor was forced to apologise earlier this year, after coming under pressure over a tweet he posted in support of an historic US supreme court ruling on gay marriage.
Bahram Radan, who is known as the ‘Iranian Brad Pitt’, created controversy in the country “when his tweet hailed a verdict, which made same-sex marriage a legal right across the entirety of the USA.” Same-sex marriage has been legal in South Africa since the Civil Union Act came into force on 30 November 2006. This year’s US ruling thus arrived nearly a decade late.
Iranian High Council for Human Rights Secretary-General Mohammad Javad Larijani has slammed homosexuality as a disease. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously said “there were no homosexuals” in Iran in response to a question from a student.
Ramaphosa’s visit comes as secularism remains under threat in his home country, South Africa. If it isn’t the ANC’s Mathole Motshekga disputing the entire scientific theory of evolution, and implicitly endorsing the “super-natural, “creationist” view of our origins”, then it is Halton Cheadle, attacking Progressive Jews for not conforming to the Orthodox version of the Talmud.
Several tracts issued by alliance partners have put paid to the notion that the ANC is on a secular path. The party recently hosted Hamas leader Khalid Misha’al — the leader of an organisation that is involved in an armed struggle to reclaim Jerusalem and the Levant on behalf of an Islamic State.
On June 6 1995, South Africa abolished the death penalty. Capital punishment was rejected by the late Nelson Mandela’s government, as a “cruel and unusual form of punishment”. The twenty-year anniversary of the first constituent assembly which drafted the Bill of Rights, guaranteeing freedom of sexual orientation, will be next year.
The party has no plans to celebrate. The Zuma administration considers the Bill of Rights, an embarrassment, since the foundation document accords artists freedom of expression. Ramaphosa’s visit could therefore signal the return of apartheid-era prohibitions. The end of the ruling party’s experiment in personal freedom. A number of left-wing parties, including the EFF are campaigning for the end of individual rights in South Africa.
[Published in Cape Times, Op-ed 10 November 2015]