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Amnesty International’s recent report on Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa has shown that authorities across the region heavily repress the rights of LGBT people with security forces arresting individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Islamic Republic of Iran legalised transsexuality in 1987 and now has one of the highest numbers of gender surgeries. Iran’s clerics have accepted the idea of a ‘soul’ being trapped in the wrong physical body, which is why this is now legally permitted. It is said that this ruling was the result of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, being moved after meeting a woman who said she was trapped in a biologically male body and was suffering.

However, this has been coopeted as part of a more sinister plan implemented by the regime, which has now heavily pressurising gay people to undergo gender reassignment surgery or face prosecution, as even though transsexuality is now legal, homosexuality remains a serious crime in Iran. This has caused multiple people, who are mostly vulnerable, to flee Iran as a means to escape this practice.

The strict censorship laws on the use of the internet also means that many LGBT people who go ahead with gender reassignment surgery have limited access to personal experiences that discuss the process. The only information received is from Iranian doctors who, generally, are sympathetic to the regime and offer biased information that may downplay the post-surgery reality. For those who do not know anyone who has chosen to undergo this surgery, it means that they may effectively be pushed into a life changing procedure with minimal knowledge of what comes after.

The regime believes that by forcing a gay person to change their gender will “cleanse” the country from homosexuality. This leaves little choice for those who identify as queer in Iran, as they will either have to undergo gender reassignment surgery forced by the government or face prosecution. According to Amnesty International’s report, this can be fatal, as “Iran still maintains the death penalty for consensual same-sex sexual conduct”.

Senior Editor of Iran International, Fariba Sahraei said: “The regime’s harassment of Iran’s LGBTQ population, is another way that the government is trying to repress communities and violate human rights”.

She continued: “It is not just LGBTQ people in Iran who are attacked or harassed by the regime, with women, disabled people and ethnic minorities targeted too. Women continue to face entrenched discrimination in family and criminal law, while men suspected to be homosexual may be subjected to forced anal examinations.”

Fariba also said that: “The authorities in Iran will try to silence any person that does not agree with the Islamic republic, with sexual minorities and women routinely flogged and tortured, with many subject to arbitrary arrests and imprisonment”.

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