Update on Iranian Lesbian Pegah Emambakhsh’s Effort to Stay in the UK
There’s lots of news today from Sheffield, England, on our Iranian lesbian friend Pegah and her campaign to avoid being deported back to the Islamic Republic. Many thanks to Lesley Boulten and all the people who comprise the Friends of Pegah Campaign around the world. Let’s all continue to call attention to Pegah’s situation and maintain our cautious optimism that the UK immigration authorities will do the right thing and allow her to remain in the country.
Please see briefing below for update on the current position.
Friends of Pegah Campaign
Pegah Emambakhsh: update briefing for supporters of her anti-deportation campaign
9th October 2007
1. Legal matters
A bail application was made to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal which was heard on 11 September 2007. The Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) strongly opposed Pegah being released but the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT) decided to grant bail, and she returned to stay with friends in Sheffield that day. Opposition was based around the perceived threat of a public disturbance on her release and belief that Pegah is unlikely to maintain official contact while on bail.
2. Application to the Court of Appeal
An application for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal, against the decision of the AIT of 21.2.07, refusing Pegah’s asylum appeal, was submitted to the Court of Appeal on 10.9.07.
A judge of the Court of Appeal will now look at the papers and decide whether the Court will grant permission to appeal. This is likely to take several weeks.
If the judge refuses, Pegah’s lawyers will ask the Court of Appeal for an oral hearing of the application. This is likely to take several weeks further.
If the judge grants permission, there will then be an appeal hearing before three judges of the Court of Appeal. This is likely to take place some months after the grant of permission.
On 28.8.07, in a letter to the BIA, the lawyers asked the UK Government to agree that the Court of Appeal should allow the appeal without a hearing, and that the matter should be sent back to the AIT. Although an acknowledgement of the correspondence has been received from the BIA the Government has not yet responded to this request.
3. Fresh claim for asylum
On 28.8.07, Pegah’s lawyers made representations to the Government about the risk caused to Pegah by the publication of her account in the Iranian press.
The Government needs to make a decision as to whether to grant Pegah refugee status because of this, and whether, if they are not willing to grant refugee status, she should have a new appeal to the AIT.
The Government has not yet responded to this.
If they respond by refusing refugee status, and refusing to give a right of appeal to the AIT, then we will take judicial review action in the Administrative Court.
4. Coverage of Pegah’s case in Iran
This appears to be continuing through various media channels. We are in the process of obtaining some relevant coverage – e.g prominent news based or government backed websites – for official translation as evidence of this.
We are also aware of coverage of Pegah’s case on Iranian TV channels in the US.
The coverage is causing a great deal of distress to both Pegah and her family.
A point of relevance: We have had it pointed out to us by experts on Iranian law (via the Iranian desk of Amnesty International in conjunction with the Council of Europe) that Pegah’s act of asserting her sexual orientation to a court in the UK, even if not an open court and even though under another country’s jurisdiction, is equivalent to making an official confession to being a lesbian. This, as is published in the Iranian legal code, is punishable by 100 lashes, at the very least.
This point has yet to be taken up but we can verify this assertion through an expert witness statement.
5. Internet campaign
We have acted on advice to scale this back as far as practicable (given the momentum it had achieved), while political processes have been underway. Supporters have, in the main, respected our requests and instead turned their attention to sending messages of support direct to Pegah. People are still keen to be updated and interest in the case remains high. We are most grateful for this!
The messages of support have been a tremendous boost to Pegah and have helped her through some very difficult days.
6. Press coverage
We have had many requests for interviews for press coverage in the UK. Again, following political advice, we have turned this down on the grounds that Pegah needs to be left in peace at this time. This is in fact true: Pegah is not currently ready to make any kind of public statements.
7. President Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University
As we know, on 25 September the Iranian President made some memorable remarks denying the existence of gay people in Iran.
Here is an extract from the New York Sun, 2.10.07, giving some response to this that has relevance to this case.
The executive director of the Toronto-based Iranian Queer Organization, Arsham Parsi, had a question for the president yesterday. “Who am I? Who am I, if we don’t have any queers in Iran?” Mr. Parsi said, noting that in 2005 he had had to flee Iran to escape arrest. A spokesman for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Hossein Alizadeh, said that, in Iran, there is a “constant fear of execution and persecution and also social stigma associated with homosexuality.”
Mr. Alizadeh, who said he is gay and moved to America from Tehran in 2000, added that the commission, which is based in New York, has documented numerous cases of gay persecution, including executions, in Iran. It is difficult to know for certain the number of Iranians executed because they are gay, as the government refuses to disclose the real reasons that lead to arrests, he said. The director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, Scott Long, said Iranians arrested on suspicion of being gay are routinely tortured. Mr. Alizadeh, who said he was not openly gay in Iran, said there are many cases of Iranians in America and other countries who are seeking asylum because of their sexual orientation, noting that he himself was granted asylum on that basis.
8. High level representations regarding Pegah’s case
Pegah’s situation has arisen a great deal of interest at high levels in respected organizations. The following are of particular note:
Women’s National Commission: They have now written twice directly to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, requesting a meeting to discuss the issues raised by Pegah’s case and Pegah’s situation in particular. We understand that they have had an acknowledgement of their letters but an appointment has not yet been offered.
We understand the following have also written to Jacqui Smith requesting a meeting:
Council for Equality and Human Rights:
End violence against women campaign:
Muslim Women’s network:
The Chair of the Muslim Women’s Network has also submitted an expert’s report to the Home Office on the status and situation of lesbian women in Iran which expecially highlights the danger that Pegah will be in now that her story has been circulated in the media there.
President of the European Parliament: Hans-Gert Pöttering has written to Gordon Brown asking him to look into the matter [of Pegah’s case] as a matter of urgency. This letter was based on earlier briefings including material from Pegah’s earlier legal statements.
UNHCHR: they rang us twice in August to voice interest and concern in the case and said that they would be contacting the British Government to remind them of their obligations under international declarations.