The influential Iranian politician and cleric Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi-Amoli recently offered an insight into establishment attitudes to homosexuality. Gay people, he announced, are inferior to dogs and pigs.
Evidence of the persecution of the LGBT community in Iran surfaces from time to time, but censorship and government crackdowns stop people talking about it in public. A study released last week, based on hundreds of interviews, reveals the routine harassment Iranian gays face from both society and the government.
'Crime' and punishment
In 2007, in a speech he gave in the US, President Ahmadinejad claimed that "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like you do in your country." It's an indication of how hard life is for LGBT people in Iran.
Even though the very existence of gays in Iran is denied, homosexuality is still a criminal offence – punishable by death. Until recently, the penalty was applied to anybody found guilty of "sodomy"; the Iranian parliament has now amended the penal code so that "the person who played an 'active role' will be flogged 100 times if the sex was consensual and he was not married, while the one who played a 'passive role' can still be put to death regardless of his marriage status".
The death penalty is still being applied freely to those found guilty of "crimes" related to sexual orientation. In September 2011, three men were reportedly executed in the south-western city of Ahvaz on charges "related to homosexuality". And just last week four men were sentenced to death by hanging after high court judges upheld a guilty verdict.
A window into life in Iran
For the recent study, Small Media, a non-profit based in London, interviewed hundreds of LGBT Iranians, giving the world a rare, detailed look at the isolation and fear they suffer. A 26-year-old gay male from Bandar Anzali said:
If I said I saw myself as being part of this society, I'd be telling the biggest lie of my life. I don't see myself as part of this society at all. That's because of my homosexuality and the Iranian people's mentality about homosexuality ... I usually refer to Iran as "your country" instead of "my country" or "our country".
According to those interviewed, the internet has been essential in allowing gay people to connect with one another in Iran. But that brings further risks, given the state's tight control over access to the web.
Despite the grave danger they face in even discussing sexuality, the LGBT community in Iran has started to speak out via the internet about the repression they face. This courage was apparent in September last year when a group launched a campaign on Facebook to highlight discrimination against sexual minorities. But can online organising lead to real change for the people suffering every day?
Further reading: Read Small Media's full report.