International News: United Nations decries death sentence for Iranian lesbian activists; Brittney Griner appeal set for Oct. 25

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UN experts demand stay of execution for lesbian activists

The UN has issued a statement demanding a stay of execution for two lesbian activists in Iran.

As PGN previously reported, Zahra Sedighi-Hamadani, 31 (known by her activist name, Sareh) and Elham Choubdar, 24, were tried in August, sans counsel, and sentenced to death by the Islamic Revolution Court of Urumieh on September 1 for “promoting homosexuality” and “corruption on earth.”

Sareh had also been tortured for 53 days by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a U.S.-designated terrorist entity. The women were first detained on charges of “forming a gang for trafficking girls and supporting homosexuality.” 

In the statement, a group of UN experts said: “Iran must immediately halt the executions of two women sentenced to death in relation to their support for the human rights of LGBT people.”

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights issue. 

The statement says, “We strongly condemn the sentencing of Ms. Sedighi-Hamadani and Ms. Choubdar to death and call on authorities to stay their executions and annul their sentences as soon as possible.” 

The experts added that “Authorities must ensure the health and well-being of both women, and promptly release them from detention.”

The statement explains that “Iran’s legal system explicitly prohibits homosexuality and same-sex relations are punishable by death under the country’s penal code.”

While the judicial decision and sentencing order are not public, the experts were informed that “the charges concerned speech and actions in support of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans and other gender-diverse (LGBT) persons who face discrimination in Iran based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.” The experts also received reports that “the trafficking charges against the women were related to their efforts to assist persons at risk to leave Iranian territory.”

The experts have expressed concerns to the Government of Iran that the two women may have been “arbitrarily detained, ill-treated, and prosecuted on the discriminatory basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, including criminalization of LGBT people whose human rights they were supporting through speech and peaceful action.” 

To date, no response has been received.

The statement references Sareh being “forcibly disappeared for 53 days following her arrest and subjected to abuse and discriminatory insults in a detention center in Urumieh, where she was held from October to December 2021.”

The statement says, “We urge Iran’s authorities to investigate the alleged ill-treatment of Ms. Sedighi-Hamadani while in detention, her enforced disappearance for 53 days, and the failure of judicial authorities to ensure due process in both women’s cases, which may also have violated their right to a fair trial among other human rights.” 

The experts said, “We call on Iran to repeal the death penalty, and at a minimum reduce the scope of its application to only criminal actions that meet the threshold of the most serious crimes.” 

In addition, the UN experts addressed the work Sareh and Choubdar were doing in Iran, saying, “Authorities have an international obligation to ensure that all human rights defenders in Iran can conduct peaceful and legitimate activities without fear of persecution or reprisals, including those working on sensitive issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity.”

According to the UN, “The experts are closely monitoring the situation and remain in contact with Iranian authorities.”

The U.S. State Department declined comment to PGN on the case. President Biden had previously spoken out on Twitter and in a press gaggle about the current protests in Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini, who was detailed by morality police for a loose headscarf. 

For a list of the experts and the full statement and related comments, visit

Appeal date set for Brittney Griner

On Oct. 3, a Russian court set Oct. 25 as the date for WNBA basketball star and Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner’s appeal against her nine-and-a-half-year prison sentence for “drug smuggling.” 

Griner has been in prison since her wrongful detention February 17 when she was taken into custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. Her trial began in July and she was convicted on August 4. As PGN previously reported, Griner has had no embassy contact since her conviction. 

Griner had testified at trial that she had permission from a U.S. doctor to use medicinal cannabis to relieve pain from her many injuries, and had never failed a drug test. The use of medical marijuana is not legal in Russia, but as PGN previously reported, Griner should have been charged with the lesser crime of drug possession and released.

On Oct. 5, PGN asked the U.S. State Department for an update on Griner’s status and asked if a State Department representative or embassy representative would be at the Oct. 25 court hearing. PGN also asked if there has been any progress on securing Griner’s release and if there was a health status report on her.

The press office referred PGN to Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel’s remarks from Oct. 4 in which Patel said in response to a query on Griner’s possible release, “Yeah, so I don’t have any additional updates to provide as it relates to the wrongful detention of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.” 

Patel told the press, “We continue to urge their release. Secretary Blinken spoke to you all a number of weeks ago and spoke about a substantial proposal that was on the table earlier this summer to facilitate their release. Our governments are communicating about that, but the Russians should take the deal that’s on the table. But I don’t have any other updates to provide.”

The White House press briefing on Oct. 4 described an upcoming appeals hearing for Griner as a “sham.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said “we are aware of Russia’s announcement that Brittney Griner will be forced to undergo another sham judicial proceeding. She should be released immediately.”

Concern over the health status of Griner has been expressed by PGN in every exchange with the State Department. There are disturbingly few details about Griner’s arrest and detention — including where she is being held or any statement on her mental and physical health. 

Hostage expert Amy Manson is a board member for Hostage U.S., a nonprofit that helps families and people taken hostage cope with the trauma. 

“They face the reality of poor nutrition, sometimes no access to fresh air or actual daylight,” she told Newsy

Manson explained that there is trauma related to “challenges” in a Russian prison. These can range from the impact of isolation to decreased physical activity as well as bad food — all of which would be especially difficult for an elite athlete like Griner who is 6’9″. 

“Some of our returnees face as much as 50 to 60 to 70 pounds lost,” Manson continued. “And then we’re talking about muscle wastage, as well as the impact on their bodies of constant poor nutrition and constant stress.”Griner’s wife Cherelle, in an exclusive interview Oct. 5 with CBS News anchor Gayle King, said of wife Brittney’s prison sentence, “It feels to me as if she’s a hostage.”

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