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Thursday, 22 May 2008

Seeking sanctuary from persecution

by Caroline Lucas MEP

Today has consisted of a series of seemingly endless meetings in Strasbourg, on issues such as environmental law and waste in the EU. I’ve ended the day on a high though, by giving an interview on BBC Southern Counties Radio about the decision by the government to save the gay Iranian man Mehdi Kazemi from deportation.

Kazemi came to the UK in 2005 to study in Brighton in the first instance and intended to return to Iran, before discovering the threat to his life after his former parnter was hanged. There had been an overwhelming consensus in the European Parliament for resolution B6-0111/2008 in March which expressed ’serious concern’ over the fate of Kazemi, recognising that Iran regularly detains, tortures and executes people on the basis of their sexuality. The case was even taken up by the House of Lords, where 60 members signed a letter to Jacqui Smith.

Homosexual acts have been considered a capital crime in Iran since the 1979 revolution that brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power, and during a speech at Columbia University in September 2007, Prime Minister Ahmadinejad made the frankly tragic and even amusing claim that "in Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country".

It’s worth remembering that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and in particular to Article 3 thereof, prohibits the removal, expulsion or extradition of persons to countries where there is a serious risk that they would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. So I hope this case sets a new precedent for people like Pegah Emambakhsh, an Iranian lesbian, whose future in the UK is yet to be decided.

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