Tag Archives: Mehdi Kazemi

Jacqui Smith is a Killer

It should surprise noone, given her track record as Home Secretary, but today Jacqui Smith proved once and for all just how ruthless she can be. Having received limited kudos for her finally granting asylum to Mehdi Kazemi, the question remained – would she institute a moratorium on deportations of gay asylum seekers to Iran and similar Middle Eastern (and other) countries, where to be gay is to court the probability of death? After all the Netherlands proved they could do it. The answer was ‘no’:

“With particular regard to Iran, current case law handed down by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal concludes that the evidence does not show a real risk of discovery of, or adverse action against gay and lesbian people who are discreet about their sexual orientation.”

Sorry but she’s fucking retarded. I’ve tried to use more temperate language about this woman until now, but this is just ridiculous. Ben Summerskill, Stonewall Chief Executive quite rightly pointed out her stupidity:

“You only have to listen to people who were terrorised by the Metropolitan Police in the 1950s and 1960s to know that telling gay people to live discreetly is quixotic.”

It’s a cavalier and inhuman means of avoiding living up to the human rights obligations she’s tied into, as well as the European Commission’s ruling in January that:

“Member States cannot expel or refuse refugee status to homosexual persons without taking into account their sexual preferences, the information relevant to the situation in their country of origin, including the laws and ways in which they are applied.”

And why would she refuse a moratorium (other than to prove her political brutality, lining up behind her boss, having proven his ‘strength’ with his pyhrric victory on 42 days)? Does she believe there’ll be some sort of ‘flood’ of asylum seekers, to ‘swamp’ the notoriously bad UK Border Agency? Paul Canning of Gayasylumuk points out:

“The Dutch experience shows that a proven, tested model exists of how to operate a humane asylum policy for gays and lesbians – and they haven’t had a ‘flood’.”

“Similar policy and practice exists in the United States, Canada and Sweden – why is the UK alone in being inhumane and disregarding international law?”

Opposition parties have lined up to condemn the Home Secretary. Stephen Crabb, the Chairman of the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission said:

“Asking minorities to live their lives discreetly is to give in to the tyrants and bullies who sustain their positions through fear and coerced conformity.

“It demonstrates both an unelevated view of the importance of human rights and cowardice in championing our own system of values.”

Whilst Phelim Mac Cafferty, media spokesperson for LGBT Greens said:

“Her claim that as long as people are “discreet” a regime notorious for its treatment of LGBT people will somehow stop persecuting them is misled at best and homicidal at worst.

“Instead of this macho posturing from the Home Office on keeping asylum figures down, we desperately need a Home Secretary prepared to look the Iranian regime in the eyes and stand up for what’s right for LGBT people.”

And this is what it’s all about. It’s why Peter Tatchell’s claim about the treatment of gay asylum seekers is more salient than ever. The New Labour government has been attacking the 1951 Geneva Convention since 2003 and they’ll do whatever they can to keep it that way. It’s an outrage essentially to blame gay people for their own persecution and it deserves the most thorough condemnation. This is what Iran does to gay people, a fact which the Home Office denies.


Save Jojo Jako Jacob

It’s an alarming refrain isn’t it? Having constantly to issue pleas to save gay Muslim asylum seekers from deportation from this country to an almost certain death. Rather than issue a moratorium on any further such deportations after the reprieve for Mehdi Kazemi, the Home Office instead no doubt expects that that could trigger a flood of bogus asylum claims which would overwhelm them. Yet Paul Canning points out:

Campaigners, who include The Scotsman newspaper and MSPs have publicised how the Home Office offered Jojo £46 to go home, sent him a weekly letter asking his permission to be “repatriated” back to Syria and locked him up in a Young Offenders Institution.

At The Tribunal, the Home Office called JoJo a liar, said that he was not gay and that he had not been tortured. The Tribunal judges rejected this, saying “we believe he is gay”. Campaigners described the judges as “sympathetic”.

The judges are currently ‘reviewing medical evidence related to torture’ before making their ruling. The Home office continues to insist on dealing with cases only on a ‘case by case’ basis, despite the asylum system neither being fit for purpose institutionally, nor competent or fair enough to deal with asylum seekers seeking refuge on the grounds of sexual orientation persecution. Mehdi Kazemi, Pegah Emambakhsh, Prossy Kakooza, Jojo Jako Jacob and so many others are the victims of institutional homophobia by the Home Office and UK Border Agency, and not every ‘failed’ gay asylum seeker is going to be able to generate the same amount of media attention as Mehdi Kazemi. The blood on our hands of people who kill themselves or who die on their return – gay or straight – has to stop.

Save Prossy Kakooza

It’s been days since the five-year asylum reprieve for Mehdi Kazemi was granted by the British government, but they’re already at it again. This time Prossy Kakooza’s application for asylum has been rejected, the Home Office again suggesting that there is no evidence to suggest she is at risk of persecution for her sexual orientation in Uganda. It’s the same garbage as with Mehdi’s situation, with the identical issues highlighted by Peter Tatchell still in play:

  • No training on sexual orientation issues for asylum staff and adjudicators
  • No explicit official policy supporting the right of refugees to claim asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation
  • No action to stamp out the abuse of LGBT refugees in UK asylum detention camps
  • No accurate, up-to-date information on the victimisation of LGBT people in violently homophobic countries
  • No access to adequate legal representation for LGBT asylum applicants

The government again denies the likelihood of persecution because of her sexual orientation, yet either chooses to ignore or is unaware of the Ugandan penal code as regards homosexuality, as well as:

you cannot settle in a new town without a reference from your previous village, and on the basis she is a lesbian, Prossy would be subjected to similar persecution wherever she went.

Is the Home Office ignorant of this social practice or, as in the case of many asylum seekers, was her case turned down because she’d been denied legal aid, making a fully nuanced case to the immigration tribunal almost impossible, as per Tony Blair’s policy in 2003? Either way, it’s a reminder that Mehdi’s reprieve didn’t represent any improvement in the asylum system whatsoever, it was down to having exploited a weakened Gordon Brown, nothing more. How very New Labour to hide bad behaviour under isolated good deeds.

Uganda outlaws male homosexuality, under laws originally imposed by the British colonizers in the nineteenth century. Offenders can face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Lesbians and gays are subjected to vigilante violence by homophobic mobs, especially in rural areas where most of the population live. Civil rights groups, including Amnesty International, have been critical of the Ugandan government for allowing the abuses to go on.

Clearly the Home Office’s information is at the very least not up-to-date, either wilfully or through incompetence. When people’s lives are at stake, neither is acceptable. Stay mad.

IGLHRC is concerned for the safety of leaders and supporters of the LGBT community in the East African nation of Uganda, after senior officials went on the public and private radio stations to call for the arrest of leaders of the country’s LGBT movement this morning. Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhinde and Minister of Ethics and Integrity Nsaba Butoro, were showing their solidarity with a coalition of conservative Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Bahai congregations—the Interfaith Coalition Against Homosexuality—that has called for the arrest, deportation, and even murder of gays and lesbians.

Does this really not represent persecution?

Mehdi Kazemi Granted Asylum

At long last Mehdi Kazemi has been granted asylum in the UK and is now safe from being sent back to a near certain death in his home country of Iran. It’s about bloody time too. I hope Ian McKellen manages to get him to Pride in July – whether he likes it or not he has become an important public figure in the fight against this government’s ignorance and institutional homophobia.

But don’t forget about Jojo Jako Yakob, don’t forget about Pegah Emambakhsh (even Obama hasn’t), nor the many other asylum seekers, both gay and straight, treated with barbaric cruelty in their politically undermined asylum applications, be they free or detained.

Dr. Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MEP for South East England, demanded that the British government makes homophobia and transphobia absolute grounds for asylum.

And she’s right of course. The Dutch can do it (although not without governmental resistance), so why can’t we?

Animals, Lock-Up Time

It really is inconceivable to me that something as significant as the protests and repression at the Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre aren’t getting picked up by the mainstream media at all; it’s shameful really. On April 1st a majority of detainees went into the exercise yard to protest against their detention and the poor conditions they face (which include universally inadequate legal representation, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts). The following day they followed up with hunger strikes. Be aware that asylum seekers are not locked up at Harmondsworth for having committed any crime, and that protests such as this have occurred there many times before, each time having been broken up violently by the police.

This too was broken up by police violence. On April 5th about 50 riot police broke the hunger strike, putting detainees into solitary confinement and other prisons in order to stop them from communicating with each other and the outside world. The mainstream media ignored this too, and the whereabouts of about 30 detainees are currently unknown. State violence is not supposed to be happening in the United Kingdom, nor is it supposed to be allowed to happen by the mainstream media. This has gone on in November 2006, April 2006, January 2006 and July 2004 merely at Harmondsworth, not to mention Yarls Wood in 2002 and 2004:

Arbitrary detention, dispersal, vouchers, deportations, self harm, suicides, racist attacks, snatch squads, are all part of the daily life of asylum seekers in the UK.

That’s not just a quote, as confirmed by Harmondsworth’s most recent inspection by the Chief Inspector of Prisons:

Over 60% of detainees said they had felt unsafe at Harmondsworth. This was much higher than the comparator for other centres. More worryingly, the main fear was of bullying by staff: 44% of detainees (compared to 28% in other IRCs) said they had been victimised by staff. In structured interviews, five of the 10 most common concerns about safety related directly to staff behaviour. Detainees described custody officers as ‘aggressive’, ‘intimidating’, ‘rude’ and ‘unhelpful’, especially to those without English – though they found senior officers better, and were extremely complimentary about education staff. Some staff also expressed concerns to us about language and behaviour they had witnessed from colleagues. We ourselves saw relationships that were often distant, and evidence of a lack of care or understanding of detainees’ situations and anxieties.

We attributed these poor relationships, which were worse than any we have seen elsewhere, at least in part to the centre management’s over-emphasis on physical security and control. Many of the rules and systems would have been considered over-controlling in a prison, let alone a removal centre. Detainees were unable to have basic possessions, such as tins, jars, leads for audio equipment and nail clippers. Their movements were strictly controlled. Use of force was high, as was the use of temporary confinement in segregated conditions – sometimes as a response to poor behaviour rather than for reasons of security or safety as specified in the Detention Centre Rules. The incentives scheme operated rather as a punishment system, sometimes depriving detainees of basic entitlements, such as the ability to attend religious services.

By contrast, the systems that should exist to support detainees were underdeveloped. Suicide and self-harm work was weak, in spite of the efforts of a good and committed coordinator. Reviews did not involve healthcare, support plans were poor, and night staff had limited access to ligature cutters. Most worryingly, a so-called action plan, to deal with problems identified by the inquiry into the recent self-inflicted death, had been shared with neither the suicide prevention team nor the staff in the centre. It was a purely bureaucratic exercise which had had no impact on the centre’s practices. Equally, the complaints system was distrusted and ineffective. It was not sufficiently confidential and tracking systems were ineffective. This was of particular concern as a third of complaints were about staff, and some that raised serious allegations had not been investigated properly.

If it seems the greatest problem is the management of the centre, I wonder also why noone seems to be asking why it’s run by Kalyx, a subsidiary of Sodexho, whilst known by the government to underperform. In 2006 it was fined £5 million for undisclosed ‘performance failures’. Baroness Scotland said in December 2006 that ‘rigorous attempts to manage the situation (in Harmondsworth}’ had been put in place. Without being able to confirm this either way, the treatment that these latest protesters have received suggests the opposite, and the Independent Asylum Commission found the UK’s asylum system as a whole ‘marred by inhumanity’. It’s pointless trying to improve conditions within one centre, if the system under which it operates is ‘inhuman’, and this seems to be the principle grievance which triggered the latest unrest. The evidence:

“They are denying asylum to people who needs protection without giving them the opportunity to prove their cases. Legal representation is of bad quality and some legal representatives work for the Home Office, not in the interest of the asylum seekers.
In the meantime people are kept in detention, some have been there up to 21 months.
The fast track system is unjust and unfair, it is not practical becuse it gives decisions in 5 days and two days to appeal. People cannot prepare they cases in such short time.
Some people are in fear to go back to their countries where they were persecuted because of their sexuality, political opinion or religion, some are victims of torture, that’s why they are seeking asylum and the UK are sending them back.”

All common refrains, being picked up from numerous sources, not just Harmondsworth. The Mehdi Kazemi case, the repeated attacks on legal aid, the poor training of immigration officials, inadequate country information and ignorant attitudes by senior Home Office officials all point to a system geared up to abuse the most vulnerable, in flagrant defiance of the 1951 Geneva Convention.

The food is disgusting.
The medical facilities are appalling.
Some people have mental problems and should not be kept with the others and some are going crazy because they lock them up too long in deteintion.
We are not treated like human beings.

People get beaten at airport and they come back full of injuries. People are deported illegally when they still have cases pending.

Apart from the barbarous deportation of Ama Sumani (who died as a result of it), these further complaints are backed up in yet another damning report to precede the latest unrest at Harmondsworth. The report commissioned by the Border and Immigration Agency itself found:

The centre was found to be under-performing against any of the Race Relations standards that were set. … Only 2 managers were felt to represent principles of good practice in the way that they treated detainees with dignity and respect, whereas the rest of the managers treated detainees with disdain. It is this culture that causes the centre problems in terms of relationships between custody officers and detainees. There is a ‘taunting’ of detainees by some custody officers and a distinct lack of flexibility in treating detainees as individuals.

The detainees that were interviewed all reported either personally experiencing or witnessing harassment and intimidation perpetrated by staff. Banter and taunting of detainees was not seen as discriminatory behaviour or harassment, but as part of the natural relationship between a detainee and custody officer. This demonstrated a distinct lack of understanding and concern for the detainee’s situation.

Both staff and detainees reported incidents of detainees being taunted by some officers. There was no reason to disbelieve these reports, as an auditor overheard a senior officer saying to the CRALO, who is of Asian descent, ‘talk proper I can’t understand you.’

This behaviour wasn’t confined to Harmondsworth, although it scored the worst in the race relations audit of all immigration detention centres.

This petition has been sent to John McDonnell MP and the European Court of Human Rights, as well as other agencies. The hunger strike appears to be over, but with the evidence from official, unconnected reports and interviews with detainees showing no improvement either to the institution or the system it’s part of, it’s only a question of time before this happens again. The Border and Immigration Agency’s own conclusion says:

The audit findings highlighted areas for improvement with regards to race relations, but did not support serious allegations of racism or mistreatment of detainees.

even though the audit did support serious allegations of racism and mistreatment. It’s not to say that good practice doesn’t exist within the asylum detention system – that would be unfair and inaccurate. But Harmondsworth is a demonstrable problem, the Border and Immigration Agency has shown itself again and again not to be interested in its improvement, and government policy and attitudes only entrench and justify their failings, whilst sending ever more people who deserve only compassion and asylum into their hands.

Mehdi Kazemi Now Back in UK

It should quite frankly surprise noone that Mehdi Kazemi should have already been deported back to the UK without any mainstream British news agencies noticing at all, but he’s now here and a free man – at least as long as Home Secretary Jacqui Smith chooses to keep it that way of course. Her position is unchanged about reviewing his application, but until/unless the Home Office changes its policy of requiring additional information with which to change their minds about an asylum application, it’s hard to see what will change here. It’s also a serious concern that the Home Office’s ignorance on the plight of gay people Iran is so thorough and so unapologetic.

If we are to guarantee his safety, we must push as a international community, be we concerned gay bloggers or Conservative MEPs, and keep it politically impossible for Smith to send Mehdi back to a certain death. The Home Office’s most recently stated position was 18th March 2008 in the House of Lords and it’s one which should alarm everyone:

we are not aware of any individual who has been executed in Iran in recent years solely on the grounds of homosexuality, and we do not consider that there is systematic persecution of gay men in Iran.

 Keep his case as visible as possible and keep an eye here too.


Gay Rights are Human Rights

Two nights ago Stonewall co-founder Sir Ian McKellen gave a speech at the organisation’s annual Equality Dinner, highlighting where gay rights in the UK have come from and where they’re headed. You can read the body of the speech via the link, but this for me was the crux of what we need to look at:

But what about social equality? Don’t they have it? Isn’t it established?

Well no, it isn’t, he’s right. It’s not just the abuse still meted out by DJs, or even the religious zealots. I don’t think that Jodi Dobrowski was murdered because of them, nor did David Copeland bomb the Admiral Duncan simply because he might have been bullied at school. It’s the inbuilt presumptions in society which persist through progressive legal changes like civil partnerships, because they’re subtle. It’s the nasty homophobic presumptions which persist in the Metropolitan Police, because the current Mayor thinks they’re worth trading off in favour of easier goals like higher police numbers, or because ‘maintaining security’ is more important than treating people with basic decency. If you don’t challenge it you legitimise it. Rowan Williams legitimises the African Anglicans’ attack on Gene Robinson and gay rights worldwide despite the example of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, because he fears being the Archbishop of Canterbury who led the Church to schism. Rights issues are always enmeshed in other issues – that’s what makes human rights accountability so very difficult, but a line has to be drawn; laws are not enough.

And Stonewall isn’t the organisation which has to lead this fight, as was thought in the 90s, with the professionalisation of protest. They may be the continent’s foremost gay rights lobbying organisation, but Mehdi Kazemi would have been off their radar had he been deported. His current future seems likely to be assured by the intervention of campaigning individuals like Peter Tatchell, internet campaigners and oddly the press, whose storms of protest have together for the moment backed Home Secretary Jacqui Smith into a corner.

To get gay rights in immigration and asylum in practice to basic legislative norms, to address basic rights for gay people destroyed by the judicial and penal systems, to get gay visibility on the football pitch as accepted as it now is on television, it’s down to all of us. Stonewall can change laws, but a lobbying group is far less adept at changing attitudes. The politicians don’t have it on their agenda, the right wing media have a bias against it, and people’s lives are still being destroyed not because gay rights aren’t being addressed, but because we’re not looking at them through the prism of human rights yet. Address the flagrant breaches in human rights which Britain’s institutions, public services and government regularly flaunt, and you see the real future for gay rights.