March 11, 2008
Gay Iranian Man Pleads For Asylum
--By CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh
An 19-year old Iranian who dared identify as gay nervously awaits a court ruling that he says could lead to his execution. “Mehdi” was studying English in Britain, when he says he learned his boyfriend back in Tehran had been arrested, charged with sodomy and hanged in 2006. But before the boyfriend was killed, Mehdi says, authorities forced his partner to name past lovers.
Days later, Mehdi’s family claims, Iranian police showed up at their Tehran family home with an arrest warrant. In an asylum claim submitted to Britain’s Home Office, Medhi said if he returns to Iran, he too would be executed.
Britain’s Home Office didn’t buy it. It turned him down – then Mehdi fled for Canada before British officials could deport him to Tehran. But he was stopped by border police in Germany and sent to the Netherlands.
He now sits in a Dutch detention center, where he waits for a judge to decide whether to grant him asylum, or carry out a British extradition request to send him to the U.K.
The British Home Office says it does not believe that homosexuals in Iran are routinely persecuted purely because of their sexuality.
But gay rights activists are outraged. Is Mehdi telling the truth? Could this be a scam to start a new life in Europe? The head of one Persian gay rights organization tells me the group’s own researchers in Tehran could not verify Mehdi’s claims – but they did find the boyfriend’s family, visited his school, searched government records; nobody would talk.
Such is homosexuality’s taboo in Iran. So how can one prove a past ‘gay lifestyle’ to British authorities when one comes from a country where being gay is illegal – and where gay sex is punishable by death?
I sat down with Mehdi’s uncle – he’s been living in England some 30 years. He says his nephew had been living as a openly gay man while in Britain – even moved to from London to Brighton, the English seaside city many consider Britain’s unofficial gay capital. If Mehdi is returned to Britain, then deported to Iran, the uncle says, whomever at the Home Office signs his deportation papers, signs his nephew’s death sentence. The uncle fears for his nephew’s safety if he’s deported.
He also tells me Mehdi’s father in Tehran has - to put it diplomatically - disowned Mehdi, “for the shame he’s brought on the family.” A growing wave of politicians, human rights organizations, gay rights activists and ordinary citizens make an interesting point: regardless of validity of Mehdi’s claims, no gay person should be sent back to Iran.
Mehdi’s case has become so well-known that if he returns home, he becomes a living symbol against the Iranian Regime’s moral code. A symbol that Regime may not be able to ignore. There are many people putting their own reputations on the line to campaign for Mehdi. It would seem quite an elaborate plan to fake. Where does the truth lie in this complicated, sensitive story?
Watch our in-depth look at Medhi’s case – and decide for yourself.
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