Iranians convicted for same-sex activities are on death row and awaiting hanging, including several who were minors when arrested, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.
A report by the nonprofit organization documented cases of arbitrary arrests, invasions of homes, mistreatment of detainees and the denial of due legal process to people suspected of nonconformist sexual activity.
Thousands of people are believed to have been condemned to death for homosexual activity since the 1979 Iranian revolution, and the public hanging of two men -- one of them a minor -- in 2005 for having consensual sex drew international attention.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jeered when he said in a speech at Colombia University that homosexuality did not exist in Iran.
Human Rights Watch said the number of executions for same-sex intercourse was difficult to determine, since most cases are conducted in closed court and often the defendant is accused of other capital crimes as well as "sodomy."
But several gays are among an estimated 130 people awaiting execution for offenses committed as juveniles, a violation of international law, it said.
"Over the last five years no one has been charged solely with sodomy and executed," said Faraz Sanei, the researcher who compiled the report based on contacts with 125 Iranian gays.
Iran rarely carries out the death sentence until after the prisoner turns 18, he said.
The 102-page report cited allegations that suspected sexual offenders were themselves raped or sexually abused in detention by security authorities.
Iranian law criminalizes all sex outside traditional marriage. But the report said the government "appears to officially sanction harassment and abuse" of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Iranians, who are often seen as "diseased, criminals or corrupt agents of Western culture."
Under Iran's Islamic law, same-sex intercourse between two men is punishable by death, but the penalty is more lenient for lesbians -- 100 lashes for the first three offenses and the death penalty for the fourth. Often convictions are based on forced confessions, Sanei told reporters.
The New York-based group released the report in Amsterdam, where it recently opened an office, to underscore the threat to asylum seekers facing deportation back to Iran, as European countries toughen their asylum regulations and turn away more applicants.
One objective of the report was "sensitizing governments that are solicited by asylum seekers so they will have reliable information and be able to make informed decisions," said Eric Goldstein, HRW's research director for the Middle East.
Sanei said the report took five years to complete, but the organization's researchers were never allowed to enter the country. Interviews were conducted among refugees in Turkey or by e-mail with gays still in Iran.