World News

Britain grants gay Iranian asylum reprieve

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain granted a gay Iranian teenager a reprieve on Thursday from deportation to Iran, where he says he could be hanged for his homosexuality.

Interior Minister Jacqui Smith said in a statement that “in the light of new circumstances” 19-year-old Mehdi Kazemi’s appeal for asylum in Britain should be reconsidered.

“This is very positive. But reconsidered doesn’t mean he’ll get a permit, they could still deny what he is asking,” Kazemi’s Dutch lawyer, Borg Palm, told Reuters by telephone.

Kazemi came to Britain to study in 2005, lawyers have said. He later learned that his lover in Iran had been hanged after being charged and convicted of sodomy. Homosexuality is illegal in the Islamic republic.

Fearing for his life, Kazemi sought asylum in Britain, but his claim was rejected.

Senior British lawmakers urged Smith earlier on Thursday to show mercy and grant Kazemi asylum in Britain, where his uncle has lived for 30 years.

“We are deeply concerned at the possible execution of Mehdi Kazemi if he is refused asylum in the UK and is deported to Iran,” read a letter to Smith signed by 63 members of the House of Lords, Britain’s unelected upper chamber of parliament.

Kazemi fled to the Netherlands and sought asylum there, but a Dutch court this week turned down his application, saying as he had applied in Britain he must return there to pursue his case.

He is due to be deported from the Netherlands back to Britain within days, Britain’s Independent newspaper said on Thursday.

Human rights groups and gay rights advocates have rallied to Kazemi’s cause, highlighting the Iranian government’s track record of executing homosexuals.

“If returned to Tehran, he will be at risk of imprisonment, torture and execution,” said Peter Tatchell, the founder of Outrage, a gay rights group.

Additional reporting by Katherine Baldwin and David Clarke in London and Svebor Kranjc and Catherine Hornby in Amsterdam