Gay Iranian awaits decision on asylum

Friday, March 14, 2008

Britain has stated that it will reconsider the asylum application of a gay Iranian teenager who believes he will be persecuted for his sexuality if he is deported back to Iran. The announcement Friday by the British government came after the European Parliament urged a resolution to the case and said that Iran has a history of torturing and executing homosexuals.

I have decided that Mr. Kazemi's case should be reconsidered on his return to the UK from the Netherlands.

Jacqui Smith

Britain had initially rejected an asylum request by 19-year-old Mehdi Kazemi, and Kazemi fled to the Netherlands, where his case was turned down and he returned to Britain. British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith released a statement on the case: "Following representations made on behalf of Mehdi Kazemi, and in the light of new circumstances since the original decision was made, I have decided that Mr. Kazemi's case should be reconsidered on his return to the UK from the Netherlands."

British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith in 2007.
Image: U.S. Dept. Homeland Security.

Eighty members of Britain's upper house of Parliament sent a letter to Jacqui Smith, appealing to the government to "show compassion and allow Mr. Kazemi to have a safe haven in the United Kingdom." Roger Roberts of the House of Lords initiated the petition, and stated: "There is no doubt that he will be persecuted and possibly face state-sanctioned murder if he is forced to return." Simon Hughes, Member of Parliament for North Southwark and Bermondsey, said he would support Kazemi if he returns to the United Kingdom: "I hope Mr Kazemi will now come back to Britain where arrangements are already in place for an urgent meeting with him, his family, specialist lawyers and myself to prepare a new application to the Home Office."

Gay rights advocate and spokesman for the British gay rights group OutRage!, David Allison commented "It's cruel to even suggest sending him back ... The history of gays in Iran has been horrific." Ben Summerskill of the British gay rights organization, Stonewall, said: "We are obviously delighted that the home secretary has listened to the representations that were made in this case ... There are overwhelming reasons why people should not be deported to Iran in the current circumstances, and it is important that Britain is seen as a safe haven."

Borg Palm, Kazemi's solicitor, stated Kazemi was pleased with the news but would have an unstable future in Britain without asylum: "He is very much afraid of being allowed to stay in Britain but without being granted official permission. That would then put him in a no man’s land. He would be very unhappy in the long term."

I cannot stop my attraction to men ... If I return to Iran I will be arrested and executed...

Mehdi Kazemi

Kazemi came to Britain in 2005 to study English. His uncle spoke with CNN on condition of anonymity, and said that his nephew was studying in Britain in 2006 when his partner in Iran was arrested and hanged after being charged with sodomy. Kazemi's uncle told CNN: "Under torture and pressure, (the partner) revealed Mehdi's name as his boyfriend." Gay sex is considered a crime in Iran, and is punishable by death. Kazemi told British authorities in his asylum application that Iranian police were after him, and that he could face execution if he returned to Iran. Kazemi stated in his asylum request: "I cannot stop my attraction to men ... If I return to Iran I will be arrested and executed like [my boyfriend]. Since this incident ... I have been so scared."

After Britain's Home Office initially denied Kazemi's asylum application, he fled to Canada and then the Netherlands, where he was detained. Kazemi faces deportation from the Netherlands to Britain, after their highest court rejected his plea on Tuesday. The Netherlands' highest court rejected the case, citing EU law that Kazemi's case was the responsibility of the country where he first requested asylum.

A resolution passed by the European Parliament Thursday asked EU states "to find a common solution to ensure that Mehdi Kazemi is granted asylum or protection on EU soil and not sent back to Iran." The resolution also stated that Iranian authorities "routinely detain, torture and execute persons, notably homosexuals" and that "Mehdi's partner has already been executed, while his father has threatened him with death."

In a September 2007 speech at Columbia University, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was challenged by University president Lee Bollinger for Iran's treatment of gays. Ahmadinejad stated that "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country," drawing laughter from the audience. "In Iran we do not have this phenomenon, I don't know who has told you that we have it." According to Iranian human rights activists, over 4,000 gay men and lesbians have been executed since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.