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Thursday 3 April 2008

Mehdi Kazemi: On his way back : Dutch "We have confidence in a good outcome"

Conservative State Secretary of Justice, Nebahat Albayrak
In an emergency debate in the Dutch Parliament Lower House this afternoon the conservative State Secretary of Justice, Nebahat Albayrak, confirmed that the gay Iranian, Mehdi Kazemi, will be returned to the UK.

The debate was the initiative of the liberal D66 party. They found enough support in parliament on Tuesday from the GroenLinks (Green), ChristenUnie (centrist), PVV (conservative), SP (left) and PvdA (social democrats, sister party of the British Labour Party) opposition parties to secure today's debate. The PvdA agreed to open the debate.

The Dutch have a policy to not return gay refugees to Iran.

Figures quoted in the parliament by Boris van der Ham, the D66 (liberal) MP, who has led the defence of Kazemi amongst MPs, show that only 38-40 gay people have been granted asylum under this policy since 2006, when an attempt was made to repeal it.

Albayrak said:
"I defend those policies with conviction."
Dutch opposition parties were concerned that the British were not offering any guarantees of asylum for Mehdi and so that policy would therefore be breached "through the back door".

"There is no guarantee”, said SP MP Jan de Wit. "This is indispensable for my group."

"Gays are at risk to suffer from the terrible and barbaric regime in Iran", argued PVV MP Fritsma Sietse.

"Iranian gays can count on 110 lashes of the whip, sometimes to death, " said Boris van der Ham.

Dutch opposition MP, Boris van der Ham
Van der Ham presented new information to the parliament about the increased persecution of homosexuals in Iran which was published last week by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

He requested that
Albayrak bring the new HRW information to the attention of her European counterparts - including Jacqui Smith - as well as the Iranian ambassador to the Netherlands and he wants to know what action the Dutch ambassador to Iran is taking.

The opposition had argued that Albayrak should depart from a European agreement that Kazemi must apply for asylum in the first country he arrives in and instead receive asylum in the Netherlands.
Albayrak said that agreeing to this would undermine work for a common European asylum policy.

"Dan snijden we onszelf in de vingers", said Albayrak. "Then we cut ourselves in the fingers."

As well, a
request for guarantees could also be interpreted as a sign of mistrust.
"I have no indication that England does not respect international treaties."

Albayrak said:
"I am confident that England, even in this case, will comply with the treaty obligations. I have talked to the British Secretary of State [Home Secretary Jacqui Smith,] and she told me that this person is being reconsidered, and that they are taking into account the new facts, such as the fact of the publicity in Iran, now everybody knows that this man is homosexual. This case has my personal attention and I will continue to follow the procedure. "
However the opposition expressed strong skepticism in relying on British asylum procedures.

Albayrak said that granting asylum could bring more gay asylum seekers to the Netherlands. Henk Kamp representing the party of controversial MP Geert Wilders, VVD, and others also suggested that approving asylum would lead to a flood of gay asylum seekers.

Activists report that several members of the government expressed their support for granting asylum for Mehdi in private but the political block system of voting, analogous to 'whipping' in the UK parliament, meant that the vote following the debate could not be won.

However there was majority support for
Albayrak to keep them informed of the progress of Kazemi through the British asylum system and for the Netherlands to call for a European policy of not returning gays and Christians to Iran.

Dutch activists supporting Kazemi say that the requirement is that 48 hours expire before he is returned to the UK, however van der Ham says he may be returned as early as Friday 4th.

Prior to the debate the Dutch gay group COC Netherlands and the action group 'Help Seyed Mehdi Kazemi' had presented in the square outside the Lower House building a 800 signature petition, gathered during the past fortnight, to van der Ham to pass on to Albayrak.

COC reports that, failing a positive outcome from the British asylum process, a lawyer has been found to begin proceedings at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

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