A gay teenager who faces the death penalty if he is forced to return to Iran has won a temporary reprieve after the Home Secretary halted his planned deportation and agreed to reconsider his case.
The Government's surprise intervention yesterday follows an international outcry over the plight of Mehdi Kazemi, 19, who lost his asylum claim in Britain even though his former boyfriend had been arrested by the Iranian state police and executed for sodomy.
Mr Kazemi later fled to the Netherlands from Britain, but this week lost his final legal battle to force the Dutch government to allow him to seek refugee status there. He is being held in a Rotterdam immigration detention centre, awaiting transfer to Britain in the next few days.
Announcing the decision to rehear Mr Kazemi's case, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said yesterday: "Following representations made on behalf of Mehdi Kazemi, and in the light of new circumstances since the original decision was made, I have decided that Mr Kazemi's case should be reconsidered on his return to the UK from the Netherlands."
The political breakthrough was welcomed by his family and supporters, who said they now hoped Ms Smith would grant him permanent asylum in Britain.
Emma Ginn, of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, who met Mr Kazemi when he was detained in Britain in 2006, said: "This is, finally, a good decision. There are many flaws in the UK's so-called 'fair and efficient' asylum determination process that others, not so fortunate to attract such global news coverage, are subjected to. The whole thing seems like not much more than a lottery."
Mr Kazemi's MP, Simon Hughes, said last night: "This public confirmation of the Government's position is very welcome. I hope Mr Kazemi will now come back to Britain, where arrangements are already in place for an urgent meeting with him, his family, specialist lawyers and myself to prepare a new application to the Home Office. It is becoming more and more clear that sending gay people back to Iran under the present regime is completely unacceptable."
The chief executive of the gay rights group Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, said: "We are obviously delighted that the Home Secretary has listened to the representations that were made in this case. There are overwhelming reasons why people should not be deported to Iran in the current circumstances, and it is important that Britain is seen as a safe haven."
The Liberal Democrat European justice spokeswoman, the MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford, said: "This is a welcome move, even if it should have come voluntarily and without the need for so much pressure. But we must not forget other gay Iranians fearing for not only their liberty but their lives, such as Pegah Emambakhsh [an Iranian lesbian who is seeking asylum in Britain]. They deserve justice, too."
Mr Kazemi came to London to study in 2005, but in April 2006 discovered that his gay partner had been arrested by the Iranian authorities and named him as his boyfriend before his execution.
Fearing he might suffer the same fate if he returned home after his studies, Mr Kazemi decided to seek asylum in Britain.
In an open letter to the British Government, Mr Kazemi told the Home Secretary: "I wish to inform the Secretary of State that I did not come to the UK to claim asylum. I came here to study and return to my country. But in the past few months my situation back home has changed. The Iranian authorities have found out that I am a homosexual and they are looking for me."
He added: "I cannot stop my attraction towards men. This is something that I will have to live with the rest of my life. I was born with the feeling and cannot change this fact but it is unfortunate that I cannot express my feeling in Iran. If I return to Iran I will be arrested and executed like my former boyfriend."
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