Friday, March 14, 2008

A Ray of Hope for Mehdi Kazemi

A day for a small cheer and crossed fingers.
The Home Secretary has finally agreed to review the case of 19 year old gay Iranian Mehdi Kazemi who, until now, the Government was determined to deport to Iran where he faced almost certain execution. His partner had been hanged in Iran while Mehdi was studying in Britain.

One of the most impassioned pieces I ever wrote in this blog was about two young Iranians who committed suicide in Britain rather than be deported to Iran and probable execution.[]
It was the only time I've adopted the technique of putting in details I couldn't possibly know but I did so in order to humanise the desperate situation of these two men because all too often these cases are discussed in the abstract - in terms of policies on asylum, arguments about the degree of risk and, from some people 'it's very sad but some countries have these laws and at the end of the day it's not our problem, we can't have millions of gay foreigners pouring into our country, so tough shit...'

That piece was included in one of those blogging anthologies - which I can't believe anyone buys or reads - but at least it preserved in more permanent form some of the most appalling acts of inhumanity perpetrated by the Blair Government.

The case of Mehdi Kazemi has received rather more media coverage, both here and overseas. And the campaign not to deport him has not been confined to gay and civil liberties pressure groups. 80 peers signed a letter to the Home Secretary, including the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, the former Speaker, Betty Boothroyd and Lord Ashdown. They should all be commended for their intervention.
(Have religious leaders and 'faith communities' been equally vocal? Maybe they have but I wouldn't bet on it).

The Home Secretary's decision to review the case has come before I got round to emailing my own MP on the matter. (Some of us should probably spend less time blogging and actually do something!).
I had intended to put this in the context of the Government's current rantings about 'British values' and the need to inculcate these in young people. What example of British values is it to deliberately and knowingly send someone back to a country where they will be executed for their sexuality?
It is no different from somebody marching a gay teenager over to a knife-wielding bully in the school playground.

It also, of course, breaches our international asylum obligations. Until now the Government has tried to get round this by telling the same kind of blatant lies as the Iranian Government. Just as the President of Iran notoriously said in America 'there are no gay people in Iran', so the British Government has claimed that gay people in Iran are not subject to persecution - in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I say a 'small cheer' for the Home Secretary's announcement because this one needs watching. It could be a stalling tactic - wait until the fuss has died down and then quietly deport him on a day dominated by a big news story.
But for now, where there's a 'review', there's hope. We must cling to that hope, but not nearly so much as the teenager Mehdi Kazemi who, incarcerated in the Netherlands, has already been through mental anguish beyond our imaginings.


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