Iran's Dr. Mohammad Javad Ardeshir Amoli Larijani is a very busy man. As an Iraqi-born Iranian scientist-turned-politician, he wears many hats. Larijani is the son of a prominent Ayatollah and the oldest member of the powerful Larijani Clan. His famous brothers chair two branches of the Iranian government: Ali Larijani serves as Speaker of the Parliament while Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani heads the Judicial Branch. A math student in the 1970s at the University of California at Berkley, he now carefully calculates public messaging as the unofficial human rights spin-doctor for the Ayatollah's regime in Tehran.
Larijani's official title is Head of Iran's High Council for Human Rights, a state-run agency in the Iranian judiciary. Thanks to his impeccable English and intimate knowledge of Western culture, he is the perfect man to window-dress the Iranian government's poor record of human rights. Despite his political job, he still views himself as a scientist -- by remaining on the faculty roster of the Institute for Research of Fundamental Sciences. However, he has no more interest in science than he does in promoting human rights.
These days, Larijani is more like a hit man trying to bring down Iran's public enemy number one: Dr. Ahmad Shaheed. Shaheed is also a Western-educated Muslim in the business of human rights. However, his title is more than a mere façade. As the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, he was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011 to monitor and report on the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran.
The latest standoff between the two took place over Shaheed's March 2013 report to the UN Human Rights Council, and a report that sheds light on the violations of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons (LGBT) in Iran. In the report, (in Persian), Shaheed stated that according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) , "criminalising same-sex relations could lead to violation of core human rights guarantees, including the right to life, the right to liberty, the right to be free from discrimination and the right to be protected from unreasonable interference with privacy."
Shaheed's findings on LGBT rights violations in Iran were based on 24 interviews with LGBT Iranians as well as an analysis of the Iranian penal code. The majority of interviewees revealed they were "arrested at least once for their sexual orientation or for associating with other LGBT persons." About half reported torture or physical abuse while in detention, "including punches, kicks and baton strikes to the head or body" and several were subjected to sexual violence or forced to sign confessions. Private violence of LGBT people in Iran is met with public contempt, as a majority of interviewees reported they were "beaten by family members at home, but could not report these assaults to the authorities out of fear that they would themselves be charged with a criminal act."
This breakthrough report met with fierce resistance from Iranian officials, who accused the UN Special Rapporteur of being a Western puppet and denied him a visa to enter Iran. On March 7, responding to the report, Larijani told Channel 2 of Iran's state-run TV, "In our country, homosexuality is a form of sickness. It is illegal to promote homosexuality, and we have strict laws in this regard. We do not think it is right to physically assault gay people or mistreat them. But we are also against this notion in the West that homosexuality is a normal behavior which they insist we have to accept."
A few days later, Larijani flew to Geneva to deliver the official reaction from the Iranian government to the UN Special Rapporteur's report. In his response, he described the request that Iran respect LGBT rights as "wild expectations."
Before the UN Human Rights Council, he stated, "Obviously the Special Rapporteur knows nothing about the cultural and religious history of Iran, its international obligations, and not even the international language and protocol. For instance, he accuses Iran of ignoring gay rights. None of our international human rights obligations requires us to respect gay rights.... Surprisingly, such an unfair cultural invasion is being justified as the universality of human rights."
Larijani's denial of Iran's duty to protect LGBT rights actually contradicts Iran's obligations under the ICCPR. In its November 2011 Concluding Observations on Iran's compliance with ICCPR, the UN Human Rights Committee specifically instructed the Government of Iran to repeal or amend legislation that "could result in the discrimination, prosecution and punishment of people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity." (Persian) The Committee called on the Government of Iran to unconditionally release "anyone held solely on account of freely and mutually agreed sexual activities or sexual orientation" as well as to take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to eliminate and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation." How would Dr. Larijani spin that?
In the eyes of Larijani and the ruling establishment in Iran, LGBT people are sick and have no rights. That may explain why the Iranian Penal Code considers consensual same-sex relations to be a capital crime. A young Iranian gay man responded best directly to the Spin Doctor in a Facebook post, saying, "Dr. Larijani, if you think we are sick, why don't you come to visit us sometime? When you come, please don't forget to bring flowers."