Alireza Fazeli Monfared, a 20-year-old gay Iranian man, was killed in an alleged "honor killing."
Insider obtained voice notes indicating he was days away from fleeing Iran because of persecution.
Activists are among those seeking to draw attention to his killing.
Alireza Fazeli Monfared, a 20-year old Iranian man, was beheaded in what an Iranian human-rights group says was an "honor killing" by family members after they learned he was gay.
Monfared was killed May 4 - just a few days after his half-brother learned about his sexuality, the Iranian LGBTQ network 6Rang told Insider after conversations with Monfared's mother and close friend.
He was seeking a permanent exemption from Iran's compulsory military service so he could claim asylum elsewhere, Monfared said in several audio messages.
But five days before he was due to leave Iran, his half-brother discovered paperwork for his military exemption detailing his sexuality. 6Rang's executive director, Shadi Amin, said that triggered some relatives to take Monfared to a remote village and end his life.
The 20-year-old's murder has sparked a global outcry, including social-media posts by the likes of Demi Lovato. But Iranian human-rights activists have said it is emblematic of a daily persecution that gay people in Iran face.
"The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia' is coming up on Monday (May 17)," Okan Sengun, the executive director and cofounder of the LGBT Asylum Project, said. "On that day, we should speak out about this. Make sure that these laws change. That's key."
'I have been threatened by my father's side of the family'
Monfared was a 20-year-old Arab Iranian from Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's Khuzestan province.
He was his mother's only child but had half-siblings from his father's previous marriage.
His family was wealthy, and his Instagram page shows a love of designer fashion.
He also enjoyed experimenting with makeup but felt unable to do so in public. "Pressure means not being able to behave however you want in society," he said in a voice recording sent to a friend and forwarded to Insider. "For example, I would like to walk around with a bit of makeup, but you know how Ahvaz is."
His family was unhappy with the way he presented himself, the executive director of 6Rang said. "The clothes he chose, using makeup, none of that is usual in Iran for a young man," Amin said.
Monfared said his family's disapproval led to violent threats. "I have been threatened by my father's side of the family - murder and such," he said in another voice recording. "My father sided with them."
Monfared dreamed of fleeing Iran and starting a new life in Europe. "I'm wondering whether I should go to Sweden or Norway," he said in one of the audio messages.
He planned to escape to Turkey in mid-May and then to apply for asylum elsewhere, Amin said. "He was not ready to continue this conflict with his family," she added.
But to leave Iran, the young man first had to receive his military exemption.
Homosexuality is considered a psychological disease in Iran
While being gay is forbidden in Iran and punishable by death, the law allows gay men to forgo military service.
"Those who have special conditions can get an exemption; if they have a particular illness, or a missing limb, or other physical issues," Jasmin Ramsey, the communications director for the Center for Human Rights in Iran, told Insider.
"Homosexuality is also considered a psychological disease in Iran, and the military's military board can exempt a gay man from service if they are deemed homosexual after an examination," she added.
Monfared's exemption was close to being approved, and he was planning to flee imminently, Amin said. But when documentation for his exemption arrived, it was not Monfared who first opened the letter.
Amin said a relative opened his mail and read information confirming Monfared's sexuality. "I think their hate of homosexuality was so huge that they decided to kill him," she added.
On May 4, Monfared made the final preparations for his departure. He went to a local store to try to sell his cellphone, according to Amin.
Three male relatives - a half-brother and two cousins - were said to be waiting for him in a car outside the store, telling Monfared his father needed to speak with him urgently and they would drive him home.
But Amin said the relatives then drove the 20-year-old to a rural village, where they are accused of killing him with a knife.
Monfared's mother was then called by a relative and told to visit a location in the rural village. A day later, she found her son's beheaded body.
His distraught mother was later hospitalized for shock. According to several sources, no arrests have been made.
Insider requested confirmation from the Iranian Embassy in London, but a response was not immediately provided.
'He was so full of life'
The news of Monfared's tragic death has sparked an international outcry.
Celebrities, including the actor and singer Demi Lovato, have shared posts commemorating the young man on social media.
Masih Alinejad, a prominent Iranian activist living in exile in New York, uses her platform of 5 million Instagram followers to raise awareness about the killing.
The story is harrowing for her, she said, because Monfared was a fan and followed her on Instagram. "I went to look at his page and I found that he was so full of life," she told Insider. "Immediately, I posted about his death on my social media and it went viral. I wish he had received this sort of attention while he was alive."
In response to her post, members of LGBTQ communities in Iran sent her clips - secretly filmed - chronicling the difficulties of living in a country opposed to their existence. Iranians who send videos to Alinejad face up to 10 years in prison, the head of Tehran's Revolutionary Court warned in July 2019.
The activist hopes the videos inform people of queer people's lives in Iran, where punishments for being gay range from 100 lashes of the whip to execution.
Ramsey, the communications director for the Center for Human Rights in Iran, said homophobia was widespread in the country.
"LGBTQ people must conceal their sexual identity if they want to avoid being discriminated against, mentally or physically harmed, or prosecuted," she said. "At the same time, they have no means of redress for rights violations and abuses because revealing their identity could get them prosecuted."
In the days following the killing, Okan Sengun of the LGBT Asylum Project said he received many emails from gay Iranians who were heartbroken by Monfared's death. "They're all saying a similar thing," Sengun told Insider. "'I don't want to be the next Alireza.'"
Read the original article on Insider