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March 21, 2008

Iranian teen fears the gallows if he is
sent home

London--Mehdi Kazemi fears he’ll be executed if the United Kingdom forces him to return to Iran.

He was granted a temporary reprieve last week by U.K. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who said the case’s notoriety warranted it.

Kazemi went to London to study in 2005. Back home, Iranian officials arrested his boyfriend, Parham, charged him with sodomy and executed him, according to Kazemi’s father.

Kazemi, 19, then sought asylum in Britain but was rejected. In 2006, he fled to the Netherlands, which detained him and is now preparing to return him to the U.K.

The U.K. had been planning to send Kazemi back to Iran when he returned to British soil but, on March 13, after extensive media coverage and political pressure, the Home Office agreed to review his case one more time.

“The Iranian authorities have found out that I am a homosexual and they are looking for me,” Kazemi said in a letter to Smith.

In a statement given to activist groups, Kazemi elaborated: “Around [the] end of April 2006, my uncle called me again and informed me that my father had informed him that the authorities had executed Parham and that I must not return to Iran as the authorities would do the same to me . . . Parham was charged with [the] crime [of] being homosexual and was executed.”

According to Kazemi’s father, Parham named Mehdi as his lover prior to his execution.

“The Home Office decision to deport Mehdi back to Iran is shameful and reckless,” said British gay activist Peter Tatchell. “Gay men in Iran are hanged from public cranes using the barbaric method of slow strangulation.”

Tatchell said the U.K. government is “callous [and] more interested in cutting asylum numbers than in ensuring a fair, just and compassionate asylum system.”

Britain’s Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association also has taken up Kazemi’s cause, saying that “deporting gay and lesbian people to Iran is akin to deporting Jews back to Nazi Germany.”

Meanwhile, the London Independent reported March 7 that an Iranian lesbian who fled to Britain after her girlfriend was arrested and sentenced to death by stoning also is at risk of being sent home.

Pegah Emambakhsh, 40, issued a statement March 6 saying: “I will never, never go back. If I do I know I will die.”

Emambakhsh’s asylum claim was rebuffed by the Court of Appeal in February. She now plans to ask the High Court to review the case.

Iran is known to have executed several teens and men accused of engaging in sodomy, although in nearly all the cases that have been publicized in recent years, the individuals were accused of other crimes as well, such as rape.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has said it suspects that other charges often are tacked onto sodomy cases to prevent the public outrage that would accompany executions carried out solely for the crime of consensual adult gay sex. The group also has said it believes executions solely for gay sex are taking place out of the public eye.

“[O]ur suspicions [are] that their current practice really is to rid society of lesbians and gay men,” the organization said last year.

Human Rights Watch, on the other hand, has said it cannot fully document any executions in Iran in recent years carried out solely for the crime of consensual adult gay sex.

Last September, during a speech at Columbia University in New York City, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was asked about the nation’s treatment of gay people.

“We in Iran--we in Iran, firstly, we don’t have hamjensbaz like you have in your country,” he responded, using a derogatory term meaning people with loose morals who chase others of the same gender for sexual pleasure. “In our country, there is no such a thing. In Iran, such a thing does not--in Iran, in Iran, absolutely such a thing does not exist as a phenomenon. I don’t know who told you otherwise.”


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