Iran will set a date this week for hearings into the cases of 17 to 20 people detained during a raid on a party in the Iranian city of Kermanshah described as a "network of homosexuals and satanists," the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO) told BuzzFeed.
A total of 75 people were arrested in the raid, IRQO's Farrokh Nikmaram said. Contrary to earlier reports, none was a foreigner, he said.
Further details remain murky. Nikmaram said his group did not know exactly how many people would be charged following the Oct. 9 raid by forces associated with the Revolutionary Guard, nor what they would be charged with. Charges of homosexual relations could carry the death penalty.
To make matters more complicated, it also remains unclear if those detained were gay or not. Nikmaram said the raid could be politically motivated, having nothing to do with the men's identities or what was taking place at the party. The fact that those arrested were described as "satanists" by the authorities also suggests the attendees may have been targeted because it was believed that some may belong to a minority religious sect with many adherents among Kurds, Ahl-e Haqq.
Nikmaram expressed concern that those arrested may be forced under torture to say they are gay, which could condemn them to death. "We are extremely worried that some of the detainees might have been forced, under torture (both physical and mental), to confess they are gay," Nikmaram said.
The sodomy law was modified in 2012 so that an unmarried man who penetrates another is only subject to 100 lashes, while one who consents to penetration carries the death penalty in all cases. But if those involved face sodomy charges, this kind of technicality may not matter given Iran's history of prosecuting sexual crimes.
A 2010 report by Human Rights Watch found that charges of sodomy are rarely brought in isolation, but coupled with other offenses that often carry the death penalty on their own. These trials are often held in secret and judges routinely ignore proper legal procedure.
J. Lester Feder is a foreign correspondent for BuzzFeed and 2013 Alicia Patterson journalism fellow.