A young Iranian actress named Kiana Firouz will attend the London premiere tonight of a film in which she plays a lesbian seeking asylum in Britain because the Iranian authorities are pursuing her. The Home Office rejects her application and sends her back to the Islamic republic, where homosexuality is a crime punishable by death.
Unfortunately for Kiana Firouz the film is not make-believe. It is based on her life. The Home Office has denied her asylum and she now faces the prospect of deportation to Iran followed by flogging, execution or both.
“Definitely she will be killed,” says Ramin Goudarzi Nejad, the London-based director of Cul-de-Sac.
“She would be arrested ... She would be tortured. She could face execution not for being a lesbian but for embarrassing the regime,” said Paul Canning, editor of the website LGBT Asylum News.
“She will be in incredible danger, not only because she’s clearly gay but because the film does not show the Iranian authorities in a good light. They will probably seek to make an example of her,” said one of her legal representatives.
Jafar Panahi, one of Iran’s leading film-makers, is at present locked up in the infamous Evin prison in Tehran for allegedly making a film critical of the regime. Yesterday a pro-reform website carried a claim that he has been on hunger strike since Sunday. Panahi’s plight was brought to the world’s attention at the Cannes Film Festival this week when the French actress Juliette Binoche read out a letter from his fellow Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami pleading for his release.
Speaking at Columbia University in 2007, President Ahmadinejad insisted that there was no homosexuality in Iran. While that was manifest nonsense, the regime certainly does its best to suppress it.
Under Iran’s ultra-conservative interpretation of Islamic law, lesbians face 100 lashes and, if caught four times, death. Male homosexuals likewise face execution. Many human rights organisations believe that scores have been hanged and hundreds flogged since the Islamic revolution of 1979.
Firouz, 27, came to Britain two years ago as a student, but while she was here the Iranian intelligence services discovered footage of a documentary that she had been making secretly about homosexuals in Tehran. The Home Office rejected her asylum appeal on the ground that she could conceal her homosexuality if she went home, and that ruling was been upheld by two appeals tribunals this year.
“My application was ... ignored by the Home Office despite the serious threat to my life that I’ll face if they deport me to Iran,” she told Radio Free Europe. “I’m shattered and emotionally devastated that they have dealt with my application so irresponsibly.”
She has lodged one final application, arguing that the sexually explicit publicity for Cul-de-sac means that her homosexuality is now common knowledge but there are no guarantees that she will not end up like her celluloid alter ago — on a plane back to Tehran.
“The UK Border Agency only enforces the return of individuals when we and the independent courts are satisfied they’re not in need of protection,” the Home Office said.
For gay rights activists Kiana Firouz’s case is a test of the sincerity of Britain’s new Government. The Conservative Party promised in its equalities manifesto to “change the rules so that gay people fleeing persecution were granted asylum”. At present, the document said, “gay asylum-seekers are often returned to countries with homophobic regimes and told to keep their sexuality a secret”.
There is a precedent for granting her asylum. In 2006 a homosexual student named Mehdi Kazemi applied for asylum in Britain after his partner was executed in Iran. When his application was rejected, he fled to the Netherlands, where he was again refused because asylum seekers can apply in only one EU country.
He returned to Britain, and in 2008 Jacqui Smith, then Home Secretary, succumbed to pressure and let him stay.