Three Iranian men face execution for “male homosexual conduct” allegedly committed when they were children, reports Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Mehdi P., from Tabriz; Moshen G., from Shiraz; and Nemat Safavi, from Ardebil, were accused in separate cases of committing homosexual acts when they were under age 18.

No date has yet been set for their execution, but the lawyer representing two of the men fears that it could happen any day.

“Killing people for what they did as children is wrong and repellent, and killing them for alleged homosexual conduct is just as wrong and repellent,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.

“The Iranian government has flouted its most basic human rights obligations in allowing these cruel death sentences.” The organisation has called on the Iranian government to immediately halt the planned executions.

According to reports, Mehdi P. and Moshen G. denied the charges, and no witnesses testified against them. Safavi was arrested at the age of 16 in 2006, and tried by a court in Ardebil, where he is being held.

The courts sentenced all three to death despite the requirement in Iran’s shari’a-based criminal code that sexual offenses require a confession repeated four times or the testimony of four male witnesses.

However, the code allows judges to use their “knowledge” in determining guilt where no such evidence is available, a dangerously elastic provision. Judges relied on such discretionary “knowledge” to sentence Mehdi P. and Moshen G. No information is available on the source of evidence for the third judgment.

Iran leads the world in executing juvenile offenders – at least seven in 2008, and at least three so far in 2009. In February, the United Nations General Assembly called on Iran to abolish the execution of persons who were under age 18 at the time of their offense.

Lavat – consummated sexual activity between males, whether penetrative or not – is punishable by execution in Iranian law. Article 111 of the Code of Islamic Punishments or Penal Code states that “Lavat is punishable by death so long as both the active and passive partners are mature, of sound mind, and have acted of free will.”

Tafkhiz – the rubbing together of thighs or buttocks or other forms of non-penetrative “foreplay” between men – is punishable by one hundred lashes for each partner, according to Articles 121-122 of the Penal Code. It is punishable by death on the fourth conviction.

In addition, Article 123 of the Penal Code further provides that “If two men who are not related by blood lie naked under the same cover without any necessity,” each one will receive 99 lashes. Articles 127 to 134 stipulate that the punishment for sexual intercourse between women is 100 lashes and if the offense is repeated three times, the punishment is execution.

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