Gay Iranian Is Denied Asylum in Netherlands

ABC News has blurred the face of this gay 19-yr-old for safety concerns.

January 8, 2009, 1:37 AM

March 12, 2008— -- Mehdi Kazemi, a gay Iranian teenager fighting to stay in Europe after his boyfriend was reportedly executed in Iran, has lost a plea for asylum in the Netherlands and will be sent back to Britain, where he could face deportation to Iran, the teen's uncle told ABC News.

"Indeed a decision was made to deport him to the U.K.," his uncle Saeed, who lives in Britain, told ABC News. He said he had spoken to Kazemi just moments after the verdict was announced.

"He was very, very disappointed," Saeed said of his nephew's state of mind.

Kazemi, 19, came to Britain to study in 2005. He has said he intended to return to his country until he learned that his boyfriend in Tehran, whom he had been dating secretly since he was 15 years old, had been arrested for sodomy and hanged, according to Kazemi's lawyer.

Kazemi appealed for asylum in Britain, writing in a letter accompanying his request, "I wish to inform secretary of state that I did not come to the U.K. 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 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."

A British court denied Kazemi's request in 2006 on the grounds that Iran does not systematically persecute homosexuals.

But human rights organizations dispute that.

"They have no human rights, it's very dangerous," Arsham Parsi, 27, the executive director of the Iranian Queer Organization, told ABC News in an interview last week.

In September 2007, Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, made headlines when he proclaimed in a speech at Columbia University, "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country."

Kazemi, terrified that he would be handed over to Iranian authorities after his application in Britain was denied, fled to the Netherlands. For the past few weeks, he was being held in detention there while a Dutch court decided whether he should be sent back to the U.K.

Unlike Britain, the Netherlands has a special law guaranteeing Iranian homosexuals are not sent back to Iran. But under the terms of a special European Union treaty, refugees are only allowed to request asylum in one EU member country.

Under the ruling, which said the Netherlands had no jurisdiction after Britain had already reviewed the request, Kazemi could be sent back to Britain before the end of the week, Palm told ABC News.

"Yes, that risk exists," he said about the chances Kazemi will be transported back to Britain within a few days.

But Palm added that Kazemi will try to appeal the Dutch court's decision with the European Union Court, which is scheduled to take up the case on Thursday.

"He is very disappointed and very frustrated," Palm said of his client's state of mind. "He doesn't understand why people are so short-sighted. He's the victim of bureaucratic rules."

Homosexuality is a capital crime in the Islamic Republic of Iran, according to human rights groups. In one estimate by gay rights activists, more than 4,000 homosexual men and women have been executed in Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Of Kazemi's case in particular, Parsi said, "It's not humanity. How can they deport somebody back when he has a well-grounded fear of punishment?"

He added that even if Kazemi escapes the authorities when he returns to Iran, his family will likely reject him.

"Unfortunately, his parents, they don't care about him," said Parsi, who says he has been in close contact with Kazemi since 2005. "They don't like his son being a homosexual and his father said, 'I don't care about him,' or 'execute him,' or 'he's not my son.'"

Kazemi's uncle agreed.

"His father is really, really angry on him," he told ABC News. "He thinks that he brought shame to the family."

Human rights organizations say the position of gays has gotten more difficult in Iran in recent years.

"I think things have gotten considerably worse," Zahir Janmohamed, Amnesty International's Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, told ABC News Thursday. "Ever since Ahmadinejad came to power, there has been an increased crackdown on 'vice.' That's everything from males and females interacting, clothes that both males and females wear, and certainly it's about controlling sexuality."

It is not clear what will happen to Kazemi if he is sent back to Britain.

According to some reports, the British Home Office, which deals with deportation cases, has privately assured members of the Dutch Parliament it will review Kazemi's case again when he arrives in the U.K. But calls to the British Home Office to confirm those reports were not immediately returned Tuesday.

And Kazemi's lawyer, Palm, warned that "to review" is a "very loose term that can mean any number of things," and does not exclude eventual deportation.

Before today's court decision, Kazemi's uncle told ABC News that his nephew himself is determined not to return to Tehran, whatever the cost."

"He was in a hunger strike for a few days," Saeed said in an interview last Thursday of his nephew's state of mind. "I asked him, I think it's best you stop the hunger strike and be sensible. He said, 'look, I'd rather die here. They're sending me to my death, I might as well die here.'"

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