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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Report: political reasons block US asylum for gay Saudi

South façade of the White House, the executive...Image via Wikipedia
By Paul Canning

Important update

A gay Saudi diplomat has been denied US asylum in what observes believe is a political move.

Arab news website Rasheed's World quotes a Saudi dissident living in Washington DC Ali al-Ahmed:
“This was a political decision by the Obama administration, who are afraid of upsetting the Saudis. His initial interview with [the Department for Homeland Security (DHS)] was very positive, but then they came back and grilled him for two days after they found out that he had worked in the public prosecutor’s office in Saudi Arabia."
"He had been an inspector to make sure that judicial punishments, such as lashings, were carried out within the law—not more, not less. They then accused him of participating in a form of torture,” explained Ahmed.
Ali Ahmed Asseri,was the first secretary of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles. It was reported last year that he told US officials that his diplomatic passport was not renewed after Saudi officials discovered him going to gay bars and that he was close friends with a Jewish woman. He had also posted a critical note on a Saudi website, it was reported, and threatened to make public embarrassing information on members of the Saudi royal family living in the US.

Last year Ally Bolour, his lawyer, told NBC that other Saudis had been granted asylum by the US on grounds of sexual orientation, but Asseri's case was unusual because of his diplomatic status. Another gay Saudi asylum case was approved quickly in Dallas in September this year.

"It's very difficult to comment on an asylum case without knowing the specific facts, but Saudi Arabia is certainly a very dangerous place for gay men and we hope that the US government would not remove any LGBT person to a country that routinely violates LGBT people's human rights," said Victoria Neilson, legal director of Immigration Equality, a national organization fighting for equality under US immigration law for LGBT individuals.

Only last month, according to a news brief published by the Emirates website 24 / 7, twenty gay men were arrested in Saudi Arabia during a wedding celebration, and over 200 other "wanted persons were also seized".

The news comes at the same time that the White House has announced that a new federal working group tasked with a system-wide review of pending deportations will include an LGBT liaison, DHS executive secretary Philip A. McNamara. However the report says that this will be solely to oversee cases involving same-sex binational couples. They are denied equal citizen sponsorship rights under the Defense of Marriage Act.

The liaison will reportedly not cover asylum cases, and there has also been disquiet over the treatment of other deportation cases not involving couples, particularly those of young LGBT who might qualify under a DREAM Act. The movement in support of that has many young LGBT in its leadership.

As well there are significant issues with the mistreatment of LGBT in detention. At the end of last month Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) filed more complaints with DHS of inhuman, degrading and in some cases life-threatening treatment of LGBT detainees.

NIJC's LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative said:
"Having a member of the working group who understands the dynamics of LGBT families is definitely a positive first step, but it is only the first step. The process for review of all 300,000 cases has not yet begun and in the meantime, individuals continue to be separated from their families on a daily basis. We hope the working group will develop a fair and transparent system that facilitates the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in favor of both same-sex binational couples and LGBT individuals facing persecution in their home countries."
Ali al-Ahmed said that the gay Saudi asylum seeker Asseri is planning to appeal the decision, and that this process could extend for several years.

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