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Friday, 23 May 2008

Disgraceful sexual persecution


Independent Editorial

It is good news that Mehdi Kazemi, who faces the death penalty in Iran merely for being gay, has finally been granted asylum in the UK. But the news is not good enough. Mr Kazemi came to London to study in 2005, but the following year learned that his former boyfriend had been executed for sodomy – and that before he was hanged, he named Mr Kazemi as his partner. Then began his long struggle to find sanctuary.

His application for asylum was rejected by the UK on the grounds that, while it was conceded that Iran executes homosexuals, there was no "systematic" repression of gay men and lesbians.
But when Mr Kazemi fled to the Netherlands to seek asylum there, his application was rejected on the same grounds; no one, he was told, was executed "solely" because they were gay; he would be safe in Iran if he was discreet about his sexuality. This was a disgraceful judgment. Homosexuality is illegal in many Muslim countries, but in Iran the punishments for same-sex relations between consenting adults in private are particularly brutal.

On the testimony of "four righteous men", homosexuals are slowly strangled by being hanged in public from cranes in the street. Human rights groups estimate that some 4,000 gay men and lesbians, some as young as the age of 15, have been executed in the past 30 years. Many more have been given beatings, 100 lashes. In Iran no public discussion of homosexuality is allowed, gay groups are banned and any political party that supports gay rights has its candidates removed from the ballot paper. It is true that the regime often adds sodomy to the list of crimes of which it accuses political dissidents but that does not lessen Iran's offence, rather it increases it.

The idea that Britain will be swamped with bogus asylum-seekers from Iran falsely claiming to be gay is risible.

Mehdi Kazemi, and others like him whose only crime is their sexuality, should not be forced to depend upon individual acts of compassion by the Home Secretary. This country needs something more systematic. That should begin with a moratorium on the deportation of asylum-seekers to Iran.

This is one aspect of asylum policy which does not need prevarication posing as a government review.

Action should be taken immediately to declare that those fleeing Iran, and certain other countries, on grounds of sexual persecution will not be forced to return to their homelands. Not to do so would be tantamount to Britain endorsing state-sanctioned murder on grounds of sexuality. The Government should announce a change in the application of the rules at once.

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