When Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif faced questions from foreign journalists on Monday in Tehran after a meeting with his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, he may have expected some uncomfortable questions.
But in a country that imposes severe punishments including the death penalty for gay sex, the question he may have struggled with most was asked by Paul Ronzheimer, a Berlin-based chief correspondent with Germany’s largest tabloid, Bild. “Why are homosexuals executed in Iran because of their sexual orientation?” Ronzheimer asked, according to Germany’s public broadcaster. His question triggered an audible uproar among his Iranian colleagues but also appeared to surprise Zarif, Ronzheimer recalled in an interview Wednesday.
Not only was Zarif standing next to the foreign minister of Germany, a country that has legalized same-sex marriage, but also the question itself was being asked by a reporter who could face punishment in Iran for his sexual orientation.
His American boyfriend in Berlin, Ronzheimer said, had helped him refine his question in English before the news conference.
Ronzheimer did not reveal his own sexuality to the Iranian foreign minister, but the journalist acknowledged that posing the question proved to be unusually personal for him: “I think I had a bit of a shaky voice toward the end.”