An Iranian cleric has claimed that people who receive the COVID-19 vaccine will become gay, according to a report.
The Jerusalem Post reported Ayatollah Abbas Tabrizian made the comments on social media platform Telegram, where he has over 200,000 followers, on Tuesday.
"Don't go near those who have had the COVID vaccine. They have become homosexuals," he reportedly wrote.
It is currently illegal to be gay in Iran and is punishable by the death penalty, according to The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.
Tabrizian, who lives in the religious city of Qom, also has a history of promoting bigotry and is known to reject western medicine.
Sheina Vojoudi, an Iranian who fled the country due to repression, told The Jerusalem Post that many clerics relate societal issues to sexuality.
"The clerics in Iran are suffering from lack of knowledge and humanity," she said.
"Actually, his goal of spreading nonsense is to try to scare people [out] of getting vaccinated, while the leader of the regime and other officials got Pfizer, and they don't provide it for the people with the excuse that they don't trust the West."
Peter Tatchell, an LGBTQ+ and human-rights campaigner, said the comments could be damaging to the vaccination rollout in the country.
"He's demonising both the vaccination program and LGBT+ people without a shred of evidence," he told the Jerusalem Post.
"By seeking to scare the public into not getting vaccinated against COVID-19, he is fueling the pandemic and putting lives at risk. Typical of many Iranian religious and political leaders, his bizarre, irrational claims scapegoat LGBTs and put theological prejudice before scientific knowledge."
In December 2020 a British-Iranian anthropologist was sentenced to nine years in jail and fined thousands of dollars after being accused of promoting homosexuality.
Kameel Ahmady had been studying child marriage and female genital mutilation.
In February 3, 2021, the New York Times reported Ahmandy had fled the country for the United Kingdom.
"Those in Iran who have an iron fist left me no option but to pack my bag for my decisive journey," he said in a statement on his website.