Mehdi Kazemi is a 19 year old gay man being threatened with deportation to Iran. His case has hit the headlines because he would be in almost certain danger of arrest and execution if the government sent him back to his homeland. Furthermore, the threat hanging over him exposes the racism and homophobia of the immigration controls system.
Mehdi originally came to London to study English in 2004, but in April 2006 he learnt from his uncle that his boyfriend back in Iran had been arrested by the authorities. Under torture he had been forced to reveal the names of his lovers, and was then executed.
Fearing for his own life should he return to Iran, Mehdi applied for asylum in Britain. However, his claim was refused. The Home Office say Iran does not systematically persecute LGBT people (although more than 4,000 gays and lesbians have been executed since the Ayatollahs seized power almost 30 years ago), and furthermore said that they are safe as long as they are “discreet” about their sexuality.
The outrageous slander of “indiscretion” against the many victims of the regime (why should they have to hide themselves away?) is not much good for Mehdi Kazemi, whose name is known to the Iranian government after his boyfriend’s torture.
Refused asylum in Britain, Mehdi attempted to claim sanctuary in Holland, but a Dutch court ruled that it was a matter for the British government, since applying for asylum in two EU member states is not allowed. Given the massive outcry in the media (most notably in the Independent) and the notoriety of Mehdi’s case, the British government did however announce on 13 March that it planned to “review” his deportation.
But Mehdi is far from safe. The government does not want to create a precedent of giving asylum to LGBT people from states where they are persecuted. It is sticking by the racist idea that even if asylum in Britain is someone’s only hope of survival, they have no right to settle here because they are a foreigner. No doubt the readers of the Daily Mail, to whose fear-mongering the government is so keen to pander, would be greatly unsettled by the idea of an “influx” of gay people from the Middle East.
At the moment there are mamy similar cases to Mehdi’s — such as those of Pegah Emambakhsh (a lesbian woman who does not want to be sent back to Iran) and the teenager Jojo Yakob, living in Scotland, who has already been so tortured in a Syrian prison that he spent 20 days in a coma. He later escaped from jail and fled abroad, but now may well be sent “home”.
In 2004 the gay man Shahin Portofeh was sent back to Iran even after drawing great attention and sympathy to his case by sewing his eyes and mouth shut. As soon as he arrived at Tehran airport he was arrested and given two days of beatings, before a trial where he was sentenced to 60 lashes. Even after that punishment, he faced another court appearance where he was likely to be sentenced to death, although fortunately he was able to avoid that punishment.
We demand the abolition of these racist and homophobic immigration controls, and say that everyone should have the right to settle where they please. But we also campaign around some individual deportations, which is why on 22 March we will be supporting the Middle East Workers’ Solidarity protest opposite Downing Street (starting 2pm) demanding that Mehdi Kazemi be allowed to stay in Britain. The demo is also supported by the National Union of Students’ LGBT campaign, Feminist Fightback, the International Alliance for Solidarity with Workers in Iran and Hands Off the People of Iran.
• At the Stop the War demonstration on 15 March, the Middle East Workers’ Solidarity campaign gave out leaflets for the 22 March Mehdi Kazemi protest and copies of the four-page news bulletin Workers in Struggle.
• Help us raise £2000 to support Iran’s socialist students
Current total: £630
Members of Workers’ Liberty and campaigns we are involved in have agreed a target of £2000 to support Iran’s socialist student movement, many of whose leaders are currently in prison. We are coordinating the fundraising with young Iranian socialists from the Freedom and Equality group currently living in the UK.
So far we have raised £300 from last year’s summer music festivals, £150 from a Feminist Fightback social on International Women’s Day and £180 from collecting on the 15 March Stop the War demonstration.
To make a donation, or to help us with fundraising, please get in touch.
Freedom and Equality is a group of socialist students opposed both to war and sanctions and to the Ahmedinejad regime, and many of their number are among the 81 students in prison following December’s protests at campuses across Iran.