Artist Katharina Grosse calls on Iran to overturn death sentences of LGBTQ activists

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The German artist Katharina Grosse has highlighted the plight of the Iranian activists Zahra Sedighi-Hamadani (Sareh) and Elham Choubdar who, in the wake of executions of protestors in Iran, are facing the death sentence.

Both were sentenced in September by the Iranian authorities for the crime of “corruption on earth through the promotion of homosexuality.” In Iran, same-sex relationships are punishable by death under the penal code.

Grosse is shown on her Instagram feed holding a sheet of paper stating: “#Free Sareh, #Free Elham.” “I urge the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately overturn [their] death sentence,” states her post. The US filmmaker Susan Stryker, the writers Hélène Cixous and Theresia Walser, and the climate activist Luisa Neubauer have also joined the campaign.

According to the United Nations, Sedighi-Hamadani has been in prison in Iran since October last year while Choubdar was arrested “on an unknown date afterwards”. Amnesty International reports that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards arrested Sedighi-Hamadani in late 2021 near Iran’s border while she was attempting to seek international protection in Turkey.

The authorities charged both women with “inciting people to corruption and prostitution” and “spreading corruption on earth”. They further charged Sedighi-Hamadani with “illegally entering the country”, adds Amnesty.

In a video circulated by the Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network (6Rang) on 7 December 2021, Sedighi-Hamadani says: “I want you to know how much pressure we LGBTQ people endure. We risk our lives for our emotions, but we will find our true selves. I hope the day will come when we can all live in freedom in our country.”

In 2017, Grosse launched an exhibition at the South London Gallery, telling The Art Newspaper that “in general, women are still really suppressed. If you look at the whole situation in the world and not just at my privileged situation, there’s a lot that needs to completely and fundamentally change.”

Anti-government protests in Iran began on 16 September, known as the “Woman, Life, Liberty” movement, after Jina “Mahsa” Amini died in custody following accusations of breaching Iran’s modesty rules. Although the authorities have imprisoned protestors, the demonstrations have continued to grow, in particular among students and young people. Earlier this month, artists including Cindy Sherman, Kara Walker and Marina Abramović signed an open letter in solidarity with protestors in Iran.

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