The Iranian judiciary this week upheld the death penalty for four men convicted of sodomy, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA).

The agency distributes reports in Persian from human rights reporters throughout Iran.

According to the report, the four men – named as Saadat Arefi, Vahid Akbari, Javid Akbari, and Houshmand Akbari, all from the city of Charam in Iran’s remote southeastern province of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad – were convicted of sodomy (“lavat” in Farsi).

Lavat refers to male same-sex relations and in Iranian law is defined as “an act of congress between males whether in the form of penetration or the rubbing of thighs.”

Under the Iranian legal system, which is based on Shi’a Islamic law but retains aspects of civil law, eight crimes including murder, rape, drug trafficking and sodomy can be capital offenses.

Under Islamic penal law, sodomy – like rape and adultery – is a “hadd” crime (from the Arabic word meaning “limit”). In cases where penetration has occurred, and where both partners are “mature, of sound mind, and acted of free will,” lavat is punishable by death, usually hanging.

Human rights and gay activists slammed the ruling.

In an email to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, David Keyes, executive director of the NGO Advancing Human Rights, wrote: “When the Iranian president came to New York, he said there were no gays in Iran, but four men are about to be hung in Iran for being gay. Putting someone to death for their sexual preference tells you everything you need to know about the Iranian theocracy.”

UK gay online media outlet Pink News cited Iranian human rights lawyer Mehri Jafari as saying he was “horrified and saddened” by the events. “Not only with regards to the execution which is about to take place, but the fact that is beyond our control,” he said.

Jafari noted that the province where the four defendants are from, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer- Ahmad, is one of the most undeveloped in Iran.

“It is obvious that a lack of access to lawyers and a fair trial can be considered a serious issue in this case,” he said. “After this announcement it is very likely that the execution will be carried out soon, and the remote location makes it difficult to exert any influence on the process.”

Stuart Appelbaum, a leading US gay rights activists and head of the Jewish Labor Committee, called for protests against the Iranian court ruling.

“Civilized people throughout the world must stand up and let their voices be heard about this barbarism and inhumanity – regardless of their views on gay rights.

“We must demand that Iran prevent these murders from occurring. Anything less diminishes our own humanity,” Appelbaum told the Post.

Gay Israeli journalist Yoav Sivan told the Post that European countries should “show leadership” about Tehran’s treatment of homosexuals.

Jayson Littman, founder of the gay pro-Israel organization Out! for Israel called on the the international LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activist community to highlight “the persecution of LGBT people in all areas of the Middle East, specifically Iran,” and to help gay Iranians fleeing the regime find asylum in the West.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger