Two gay Iranians living in Britain say they fear for their lives after their partners were sentenced to death by Iranian authorities and their requests for asylum in Britain were denied.
Advocates for Mehdi Kazemi, 19, and Pegah Emambakhsh, 40, say they will face harsh physical punishment, prison, and possible execution if forced to return Iran.
The two cases have provoked an international public outcry and have increased scrutiny of British policies toward gay and lesbian asylum-seekers.
While studying English and science in the U.K., Kazemi learned that his boyfriend had been executed for sodomy back in Iran. His father told him the boyfriend had confessed to Iranian authorities that Kazemi was his lover.
The authorities, Kazemi found out, had already been to his parents' house with a warrant for his arrest.
"I was very scared," Kazemi wrote in a letter accompanying his request for asylum in Britain and published in full on the website of the Canada-based Iranian Queer Organization. "I wish to inform secretary of state that I did not come to the UK to claim asylum … But in the past few months my situation back home has changed. The Iranian authorities have found out that I am a homosexual and they are looking for me."
He continued, "I can not 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."
A British judge denied Kazemi's request for asylum in 2006 on the grounds that Iran does not systematically persecute homosexuals.
But human rights activists say that is only because the Iranian government does not officially recognize homosexuality.
Speaking at Columbia University in New York in September of 2007, Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaimed, "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals."
The British Home Office, which deals with cases of deportation, could not be reached in time for comment on this article.
But a spokeswoman for the Office told British newspaper The Independent, "We examine with great care each individual case before removal and we will not remove anyone who we believe is at risk on their return. However, in order to maintain the integrity of our asylum system and prevent unfounded applications it is important that we are able to enforce returns of those who do not need protection."
But Kazemi, terrified at the prospect of being handed over to Iranian authorities after his application for asylum was denied, fled the country.
After a journey that sent him through the Czech Republic and Germany, he is now in The Netherlands, where he is being held in detention while a Dutch court decides whether the country is obliged to hand him back over to Britain under a treaty that says refugees can only request asylum in one European Union country.
Kazemi's uncle, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Saeed, for fear of endangering his family in Iran, described his nephew as a "very quiet and shy boy" and said he felt he had no choice but to run after his application for asylum was turned down."
He said, 'I told you uncle, I cannot trust the British government, they will send me back to Iran," Saeed told ABC News. "By going there I will be killed, and I just don't want to go."
Kazemi's case is one of two garnering international attention.