Monday, 23 June 2008

‘Discrete’ Gays Safe in Iran: Really Ms. Smith?

UKGayNews op-ed

It was enough to make anyone with a remote interest in gay men and women from Iran seeking refuge in the United Kingdom – and their problems with the Home Office – choke on their morning corn flakes.

“Iran Is Safe for ‘Discrete’ Gays, Says Jacqui Smith”, the headline in this morning’s The Independent informed us.

Robert Verkaik, the Indy’s legal editor who was the first to highlight in the ‘mainstream’ Press the plight of the then teenage gay Iranian Mehedi Kazemi, reported that Ms. Smith, the Home Secretary, had written to a Liberal Democrat Peer that gay and lesbian refuge-seekers can be safely deported to Iran as long as they live their lives “discreetly”.

Not only that, but she also said that there was no “real risk” of gay men and lesbians being discovered by the Iranian authorities or “adverse action” being taken against those who were “discreet” about their behaviour, Mr. Verkaik reported.

Frankly, we are wondering what planet Jacqui Smith is on.

No one expects Ms. Smith to know everything concerning her department. She has “advisors”, in the form of senior civil servants.

And as the TV series Yes Minister poignantly portrayed in every episode, these mandarins have a habit of getting their own way.

Perhaps the writer of the letter to the Peer was a Daily Mail-reading official who had never come across any of the background situation reports on Iran by likes of Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch.

Scott Long, the director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, wrote in The Guardian on March 31 this year:

“The UK should recognise – as the Netherlands has done – that with a law prescribing death or torture for gay Iranians, they need not demonstrate the details of past persecution. Lift the burden of proof from Mehdi and his gay compatriots. End the threat of deportation.”

He also said that current policy of the Home Office “is a disastrous evasion of the UK's responsibilities under international law”.

To coincide with International Day Against Homophobia on May 17, Human Rights Watch added the Home Office to its annual “Hall of Shame” for its policy on the deportation of gay men and women back to less than sympathetic countries, often flouting international law.

The problem with the reasoning of the Home Office is that in all but one of the half dozen cases of gay Iranian men and women seeking refuge that UK Gay News knows about, arrived here having fled because the police were actually on their trail – and not for fearing that the police might one day be interested in their sexuality.

The one exception was Mr. Kazemi who was already in the UK completing his education on a student visa when he learned that his partner had been executed – but not before he had named Medhi.

Jacqui Smith, as the LGBT Greens suggest, is “playing a dangerous game” with the lives of gay Iranian refugees.

“Effectively she’s trying to rubbish the argument that LGBT people are being persecuted for their sexuality in Iran,” LGBT Greens spokesperson Phelim Mac Cafferty said this afternoon.

“Her claim that as long as people are ‘discreet’ a regime notorious for its treatment of LGBT people will somehow stop persecuting them is misled at best – and homicidal at worst.”

Campaigning group GayAsylumUK described the remarks by the Home Secretary in the letter to Lord Roberts as being “outrageous, shameful, inhumane and anti-gay”.

The astounding thing is that, almost four years ago Ms. Smith was in charge of steering the Civil Partnerships Bill through the House of Commons back in 2004 when she was the Women and Equality Minister.

UK Gay News would hazard a guess that Her Majesty’s Government is ‘running scared’ of the xenophobic and largely homophobic tabloid press when it comes to a fair policy on gay refuge seekers.

Who runs this country? The democratically elected Government, or the self-appointed tabloids that huff and puff – and are expert at creating mass hysteria?


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