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Who were the first gay men murdered by the Iranian regime?

By April 1979, after only two months of being in power, the Islamic regime had executed hundreds of people.

Our Correspondent in Tehran



A still from the BBC documentary "A Revolution Betrayed" // BBC

Forty-four years ago, one of the most homophobic political establishments in the world was established. With undeniable support from the western world, including from the Jimmy Carter administration, Khomeini’s revolution toppled the Shah of Iran, one of the most faithful allies the US ever had. He established an extreme, religious, and backward government to lead Iran. The overthrow of the Shah did not only cause anguish for the people of Iran, but it also introduced a new level of hostility towards modernism and western values.

When Khomeini returned from exile to Iran in February 1979, he turned a religious school in Tehran into his home and office. After the toppling of the monarchy on February 11, 1979, the revolutionaries used the rooftop of the Alavi School as an execution site to kill Iranians. The first to go were members of the Shah’s entourage including military generals, ministers, and artists. Among those first victims were two gay men about whom we know very little.

A few months later, by April 1979, after only two months of being in power, the Islamic regime had executed hundreds of people. These heavily bearded, intimidating, murderous revolutionaries were no longer considered the “sign of God on earth” or “Ayatollahs”, as they called themselves. Instead Iranians referred to them in secret using code names such as, “the fat rat”, “murderer of Kurdistan”, ” the judge of death”, and many others.

A Clip from the bbc documentary “A revolution Betrayed”

Sadeq Khalkhali, or “the judge of death” as he was known in the streets, became a celebrity among the revolutionaries and supporters of the regime. Khomeini named him “the revolution’s senior attorney” and gave him the power to execute all of the Shah’s supporters who still lived in Iran, including the former Prime Minister, former head of Parliament, and former minister of education. Khalkhali was also permitted to choose the method of execution. The former minister of education, Farokhroo Parsa, was forced into a big plastic sack with a prostitute, and both were hanged in public. Parsa was accused of forcing young girls into prostitution and accepting support from the US Agency of International Development. The former head of intelligence was executed by forcing a wooden stick down his throat far enough to rupture his organs. Pictures of the executions were published in newspapers and broadcast proudly on state TV.

While the West was silent about this severe breach of human rights by the new regime, Iranians started questioning the legitimacy of the new revolutionary government. The Islamic government, which was accused of hypocrisy and using the executions to suppress protests, claimed that the newly launched Islamic judiciary was using Sharia law to bring “security and safety” to people and that the death sentences were not only issued for political opponents but also for those waging “war against Allah”.

The regime also invited the international press to see how they were fighting drug trafficking and sodomy through executions. In May 1979, PBS, the BBC, AFP, and Reuters were invited to see how the “judge of death”, Khalkhali, treated the prisoners.

For instance, one day Khalkhali entered a prison and saw a group of young men sitting on the ground in their prison uniforms. Khalkhali accused the young men of selling heroin to the “Muslim youth”, an accusation commonly used to justify the arrest and killing of political opponents. “They sometimes play with each other as well”, the Khalkali’s spokesman added, hinting that the men were seen having sex with each other. International media captured the horrifying moment of Khalkhali smiling at them and saying, “It’s OK that you are here. You are like my own sons. I will execute you so Allah will forgive you.”

In the early days of the revolution Khomeini (right) sits with Judge Khalkhali, a.k.a. “the killer,” in Tehran // Iranian News Agency

The BBC also captured another rare scene on camera. Two young men in blue prison uniforms were sitting in a dark room, waiting to be executed. One of them had no teeth left as they were ripped out in punishment. The other man sitting next to him was quiet and had his head down. The BBC’s reporter said on camera that the two were arrested while having sex, and they were awaiting execution. Their names were not mentioned in the news report, but for the Iranian LGBT community, they were known as the first two gay men to be executed due to their sexual orientation.

One year prior to this execution, during the last month of the Shah’s reign, a gay wedding was conducted publicly in Tehran.When Jimmy Carter’s administration was questioned by human rights activists about their silence on what was going on in Iran, he answered that the US did not want to “intervene in Iranian domestic politics”. Since February 1979, hundreds of LGBT people have been executed. The exact numbers are unknown since the Islamic regime feigns the charges. In the past 20 months alone, at least six gay men have been executed, and thousands of gay men were forced to take hormones and undergo gender reassignment surgery.

44 years after the historic revolution that changed Iran forever, in September 2022 millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest the regime claiming that it does not represent the majority of Iranians. The “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement is the first political movement in Iran in which the LGBT community plays an open, important, and necessary role.