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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Nigerian gay footballer deported by Austria has gone underground; Austrian police charge his counsellor with 'promoting an illegal stay'

By Paul Canning

25 year-old Nigerian gay footballer Cletus U, deported by Austria 5 May on a a Frontex (European Union agency) plane to Nigeria with 44 others (and 113 guards) despite mass protests in Vienna, has told a leading Austrian newspaper that he is now in the Lagos slums, living in a shed with five other men.

He is terrified that his homosexuality will be discovered, particularly because that was the focus of his well-publicised Austrian case, which was covered internationally as well as on YouTube.

His parents, who live in the Muslim North, where Sharia law is in force including the death penalty for homosexuality, now know about his sexuality.

"The police can come at any time," he said, "beat me, imprison or kill, because I am the way I am." In the slums, he could not trust anybody. On the phone to the newspaper he had to "behave", he said, and "fit in with those who are in the vicinity".  He only dares to venture out in the dark.

Cletus was dumped in Lagos with only the clothes he was wearing when he was seized by police at a training session for the football team he coached 29 April and given €50. He couldn't take his mobile phone "to talk with friends" and, he alledges, when he was detained he was unable to shower and wasn't allowed to see either a doctor or his lawyer. He says he suffered a shoulder injury during arrest, which has persisted.

More seriously, he alledges that he wasn't deported 'properly' and he never met a representative of the Nigerian Embassy.

This is contradicted by the Austrian Federal Police representative: Cletus U. had, according to them,  "possessed [the requisite] safe journey home certificate".

His counsellor Tim Außerhuber claims that Cletus U., who had been living illegally in Austria for six years, asked to make a asylum claim on sexuality grounds but this was illegally denied him. "Asylum applications can that same day be turned down," Außerhuber says, "but they must be approved and processed."

The green judiciary spokesman Albert Steinhauser has asked Interior Minister Maria Fekter in a parliamentary question [PDF] to comment on "irregularities in the handling of the prisoners [which included Cletus]". Following the lead of the police, any problems were denied by Fekter.

Now Viennese Police have charged Außerhuber 29 June with undermining a "method of enforcing expulsion measures", thus facilitating an "illegal stay knowingly"- an attempt to prevent the deportation of his client (the asylum claim) which is now potentially subject to a €15000 fine or six weeks imprisonment under a provision of the 2010 Aliens Act which prohibits "support" for "illegal entry and illegal residence". Der Standard says that other asylum advisers have been similarly threatened.

The Vienna lawyer and asylum expert George Bürstmayr says that fears were raised when it was discussed in parliament that the new law could 'become a trap for asylum advisers'. Austrian Greens human rights spokeswoman Alev Korun described the use of the new law as "baseless intimidation" and wondered if the Interior ministry wants to “illegalize legal advice for asylum seekers”.

Vienna police spokesman Johann Golub said that it "is not currently clear whether the [prosecution of Außerhuber] will continue."

A refugee support organisation The Schmetterling (Butterfly) Society has said it will appeal Cletus U.'s deportation to the Austrian Verfassungsgerichtshof (Court of Constitution).

Cletus U. says that, whatever happens, he will try again to make his way back to Austria: "It is better for me to perish in the desert or in the sea than here in Nigeria."

Corrections: This post has been edited to correct Außerhube's status from lawyer to counsellor and to correct the errors in the identification of the Green Party judiciary spokesman and Austrian Interior Minister.

1 comment:

  1. I have been asked by numerous people about why I decided to stay out of Nigeria as a gay man. I decided to stay out because I came to self-acceptance and reject Criminalization of my sexuality. Apart from Sharia law applicable in the Northern part of Nigeria, Chapter 21, Articles 214 and 217 of the Nigerian penal code is a threat to any conscious and openly gay person in Nigeria. Based on the publicity Cletus has received, he could become a source of exploitation for the Nigerian police. I feel for Cletus. The worst of death for me while in Nigeria, and before I came to self-acceptance, was the struggle in the closet. The fear and hurt from rejection when people know your secret. Living like that for anyone who is conscious of self-dignity and who longs for integrity is a prison without wall. Such a person needs freedom. If Cletus is actually gay, he needs help from the world to be set free so are all gays and lesbians in Nigeria or who are Nigerians. Not necessarily freedom to move out of Nigeria, but freedom to live in freedom in the land of our birth. (To me any place open to freedom and security is home, but I am not advocating a trans-Atlantic gay migration.)
    Pending the arrival of that help, Cletus, take heart. Remain in self-acceptance and conduct yourself with care in Nigeria. I am sure you know that being gay is not a choice for most people. I hope that is true to you too. Don't hesitate to e-mail me through couragenigeria@gmail.com. I have no money or power, but we can work together still. Thanks.

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