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London protest drew 120 Mehdi Zahemi supporters
London protest drew 120 Mehdi Zahemi supporters
Over 120 protesters braved hail and rain to demand that Gay Iranian asylum seeker, Mehdi Kazemi, be granted refuge in the UK.

They also urged asylum for the Iranian Lesbian refugee, Pegah Emambakhsh, and an estimated 12 other Gay Iranians who are at risk of deportation back to Tehran.

There were calls for a "fundamental reform" of the way the Home Office treats LGBTI asylum applicants.

The demonstration took place opposite the Prime Minister's residence, Downing Street, on Saturday 22 March.

"The British government had ordered Mr Kazemi to be deported back to Iran," said protest speaker Peter Tatchell, spokesperson for the LGBTI human rights group OutRage!.

"Following worldwide protests, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith MP, has agreed to review Mehdi's case. While there is no guarantee that this review will result in him being allowed to stay, we are hopeful that he will be permitted to lodge a fresh asylum claim and that this will result in Mehdi being given refugee status in the UK."

Saturday's protest was sponsored by Middle East Workers' Solidarity and the National Union of Students LGBT campaign, with the support of OutRage!

The protest's three main demands were:

- Don't send Mehdi Kazemi back to Iran

- Iran's homophobic laws violate human rights

- Give the victims of homophobic persecution the right to settle in the UK

Peter Tatchell told the rally:

"There needs to be a fundamental reform of the way the Home Office processes LGBTI asylum applications. The government is currently failing LGBTI refugees.

"Asylum staff and adjudicators receive race and gender awareness training but no training at all on sexual orientation issues. As a result, they often make stereotyped assumptions: that a feminine woman can't be a Lesbian or that a masculine man cannot be Gay. They sometimes rule that someone who has been married must be faking their homosexuality.

"The government refuses to explicitly rule that homophobic and transphobic persecution are legitimate grounds for granting asylum. This signals to asylum staff and judges that claims by LGBTI people are not as worthy as those based on persecution because of a person's ethnicity, gender, politics or faith.

"The Home Office country reports on homophobic and transphobic persecution are often partial, inaccurate and misleading. They consistently downplay the severity of victimization suffered by LGBTI people in violently homophobic countries like Iran, Nigeria, Iraq, Uganda, Palestine, Algeria and Jamaica.

"Cuts in the funding of legal aid for asylum claims means that most asylum applicants - Gay and straight - are unable to prepare an adequate submission at their asylum hearing. Most solicitors don't get paid enough to procure the necessary witness statements, medical reports and other vital corroborative evidence.

"The Home Office has failed to take action to stamp out anti-Gay abuse, threats and violence in UK asylum detention centers. Some LGBTI detainees report suffering homophobic or transphobic victimization, and say they have failed to receive adequate protection or support from detention centre staff," said Mr Tatchell.

Courtesy of OutRage!

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