Iran has sentenced two women to death on charges of human trafficking, the country’s official IRNA news agency reported on Monday, a penalty that sparked widespread condemnation online.
Authorities accused the women — identified as Zahra Sedighi and Elham Chobdar — of “corruption on earth,” a term often used to describe attempts to undermine the Iranian government, saying they exploited young women. However, foreign-based rights groups described the two women as local gay and lesbian rights activists.
IRNA made no reference to the women’s activism, reporting that they “misused” women and girls in promising better training and job opportunities abroad — a reference to human trafficking. A revolutionary court in the country’s northwestern city of Urmia, some 600 kilometers (370 miles) northwest of Tehran, handed down the death sentences. The women have the right to appeal.
International rights watchdog Amnesty International identified Sedighi earlier this year as an “Iranian gender nonconforming human rights defender,” describing her monthslong detention as stemming from her “sexual orientation and gender identity as well as her social media posts and statements in defense of LGBTI rights.”