Britain Halts Deportation Move Against Gay Iranian

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 14, 2008

LONDON, March 13 -- Britain halted deportation proceedings Thursday against a gay Iranian teenager who has said he would probably be hanged because of his sexual orientation if he is returned to Iran.

Mehdi Kazemi, 19, moved to Britain in 2005 to study and has said he then learned that his boyfriend in Iran had been hanged after being convicted of sodomy. Homosexuality is a severe crime under Iranian law, and Kazemi's case has drawn concern from gay rights groups around the world.

An initial appeal for asylum was turned down here. But Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Britain's top law enforcement figure, said Thursday that "in light of new circumstances" Kazemi's appeal would be reconsidered, handing him a temporary reprieve that his supporters hope will ultimately lead to his being granted the right to stay in Britain.

When the government first rejected his appeal, Kazemi fled to the Netherlands, where lawmakers took up his cause. He remains there but is expected to return to Britain within days. A Dutch court this week refused to grant Kazemi asylum on the grounds that he had initiated proceedings in Britain and needed to return there to continue them.

In recent years, the British government has been under enormous public pressure to reduce the number of refugees and asylum seekers it admits. Critics say too many foreigners abuse the system.

Kazemi has said he did not arrive in Britain with the intention of staying, but then found out that Iranian officials would be looking for him if he returned.

Gay rights leaders in Britain said that Kazemi's partner was tortured into naming Kazemi before he was killed and that Kazemi has been suicidal over the whole ordeal. An uncle who lives in Britain was also quoted in a British newspaper as saying that if authorities didn't kill Kazemi, his father in Iran would.

Eighty members of Britain's upper house of Parliament signed a letter sent to Smith urging the government to "show compassion and allow Mr. Kazemi to have a safe haven in the United Kingdom."

"There is no doubt that he will be persecuted and possibly face state-sanctioned murder if he is forced to return," said Roger Roberts, a member of the House of Lords from the Liberal Democratic Party, who initiated the petition.

"It's cruel to even suggest sending him back," said David Allison, a spokesman for Outrage!, a gay rights group in Britain. "The history of gays in Iran has been horrific."

Human rights advocates have long deplored the treatment, including executions, of gay men in Iran. Last year while in New York City, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was asked about executions of homosexuals in his country, and he replied: "We don't have homosexuals like in your country. I don't know who told you that."

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