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Source: France24

Aug 2, 2023

Sextape scandal reveals the ‘double life’ of Iran’s ultra-conservative authorities

Social networks in Iran have been flooded with compromising footage featuring several known ultra-conservative officials engaging in homosexual activities. While homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran, the Iranian regime has attempted to deny the videos and cover up the scandals. We spoke to a former religious authority who says authorities are trying to “save face” by refuting the wave of videos.

by:Alijani Ershad

Homosexuality is illegal in Iran, and punishable by imprisonment, abuse, fines, or execution.

On July 18, a video showing Reza Seghati, the director general of the office of the Ministry of Culture in Gilan province in northern Iran, engaging in sexual activities emerged on Telegram on a channel called “Gilan News”. 

The footage shows him having intercourse with another man. It appears that Seghati is not aware of the camera’s presence in the room. 

Screengrab of a video showing Reza Seghati entering a room and engaging in sexual intercourse with another man © Observers

The offices of the Ministry of Culture in each province are responsible for issuing permits for any kind of cultural or artistic production. In reality, these offices are responsible for censoring these creations and ensuring they align with Islamic values and Sharia law.

Reza Seghati is known for being a hardline conservative and for his efforts to increase restrictions on women’s social freedoms, including tightening mandatory headscarf regulations. For instance, he spearheaded the “Neighbourhood hijab and virtue chastity” watchdog campaign in Gilan province to help enforce headscarf laws. 

The homosexual video of him triggered an outcry on Iranian social media, as people online accused him of hypocrisy. Although he has been called a “champion of Islamic values and the Islamic family” by Gilan province conservatives for his extremist beliefs, these videos allege that he is leading a double life.

بهتره دقت کنیم همجنس‌گرایی یا رابطه دو همجنس کثافت‌کاری، بی اخلاقی و تمام برچسب‌هایی که ج.ا به همجنس‌گرایان می‌زنه نیست! پس لطفا برای فحش به ج.ا به رفتاری که حق طبیعی افراد هست لیبل نزنیم!کثافت‌کاری ثقتی، رابطه جنسی اش با یک مرد نیست! رانت، دروغ، ریا و تظاهری هست که رسوا شده!— Alireza Kazemi (@Alirezakzmi) July 25, 2023

“We should be careful not to label a homosexual relationship as a vice or any other label that the Islamic Republic attaches to homosexuals. We should not repeat their behaviour and condemn what happened. The problem here is not Seghati's sexual relationship with another man, but the lies, hypocrisy and deception,” this tweet reads.

According to Iranian mediaSeghati was “replaced” as director general without any explanation. Seven other men were arrested in connection with this affair, but Seghati himself has not faced any legal action in the wake of the video’s publication.

The scandal has reached the highest echelons of the Islamic regime in Tehran. According to Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, it was mentioned in Iran's National Security Council.

However, it appears that the regime is not prosecuting Seghati for his actions, but is actively seeking the person who recorded, leaked and shared these videos. Mojtaba Zolnouri, Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of the Islamic Republic, said, “The crime of those who released these videos is greater than the fornicators’”. 

Reza Seghati has not commented on the video.

Several days after the video was released, the person behind the “Gilan News” channel on Telegram, who first posted these videos, claimed that he was threatened with death and that his family members were arrested in Iran for several hours.

But the headaches of the Islamic Republic regime did not end there. More sex tapes were on the way.

On July 21, videos of Mohammad Safari, a fundamentalist and member of the Anzali Municipal Council, also a town in the Gilan province, surfaced on social media. In the video, he is seen smoking opium and masturbating while looking at his mobile phone.

Mohammad Safari, the man in the white shirt smokes opium, then masturbates. France24 has decided not to publish this part of the video. © Observers

Explicit video calls between two Mullahs

Then, hot on the heels of the previous scandals, an alleged explicit video call between two Mullahs (an honorific title for clergymen or a mosque leader) surfaced on social media on July 30.

One of these mollahs is said to be Mahdi Haghshenas, the former deputy of the Office for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Gilan Province, the other man in the video is allegedly his brother-in-law (the husband of his wife’s sister), also a Mullah. While many Iranian media outlets abroad have confirmed the authenticity of the videos, FRANCE 24 was unable to independently confirm this.

The Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Iran is one of the main agencies used by the Islamic regime in Tehran to impose Sharia law on the Iranian people. Haghshenas is known for his extreme views on Sharia law, his restrictions on social freedom, his hostility to science and his opposition to all vaccines.

Screengrabs of an explicit video call said to be between two mollahs, in which they mention multiple previous encounters they have already had. © Observers

‘The Islamic Republic tries to cover up these leaks to save the face of its religious structure’

Javad Akbarein is an Iranian intellectual living in Paris. He used to be a Mullah and studied at well-known religious schools in Iran's Qom. He says these sex tapes are just the "tip of the iceberg".

I think the current situation is the result of four decades of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s policies. They have created a religious cult. They have endowed this cult with money, power and prerogatives and given it power throughout the country. It is normal that people who want to benefit from the exclusive privileges of this cult join it, even if their actual lifestyle contradicts the values of this cult and they have to lead a double life.On the other hand, I can also say that most of them have never seen or touched a woman before marriage. Women are taboo, women mean sin to them. With this strong pressure on any kind of relationship with women – forbidding even the thought of women – relationships with other men are easier because there is no surveillance or pressure on male friendships.These relationships are rooted in the small friendship groups among these extremists who trust each other and believe that no one would find out.And what we are now seeing in a series of videos is just the tip of the iceberg. We don't have statistics on sexual activity in the mosques or religious schools and it’s much harder for journalists or activists to investigate in countries like Iran or Iraq because these are dictatorships.
‘People are angry about this hypocrisy, not about the sexuality of these people’

I know these people, I studied for years in the religious schools in Qom in Iran, and I can confirm that every year there are many such cases in these religious schools, which are reported to the dean of the school. What they do is ignore it and hide it, sometimes one or both people involved are dismissed. However, if the police or anyone else finds out about this kind of sexual relationship, it means prison, torture and even possible execution, according to Sharia law.Iranians are actually angry about this hypocrisy, not about the sexuality of these people. These people claim to be virtuous and holy. They have imposed the strict rules of Sharia on people; they have imposed the hijab on women. If Iran were not a theocracy and if they were not representatives of this religious dictatorship, we would not be talking about them, because it is a relationship between two consenting adults.Therefore, the Islamic Republic tries to cover up or deny these leaks in order to save the face of its religious structure and its soldiers.But I think the important point lies elsewhere. When a society is angry, it goes after the people who are responsible for its anger, who are the source of its hatred, that is, against the Mullahs and Islamists, using all the means at its disposal.Iranians have nothing but mobile phones and social media at their disposal, and that is what is happening. People are using these tools to monitor and trap these people. And I’m sure this is just the beginning, more and more videos like this will be recorded and released.

This is not the first time that prominent representatives of the Islamic Republic have been implicated in sex scandals. In 2016, Saeed Toosi, an internationally known Quran reciter, was accused of raping underage male trainees.

Although numerous witnesses and victims turned to the media, Saeed Toosi was not convicted in court. He is known as the favourite reciter of Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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