Sweden: Restrictive Immigration Policy Threatens Gay And Lesbian Iranians With Deportation, Death

Early this year, the Swedish government set a dangerous precedent in settling an important asylum case involving a gay man from Iran. Now that precedent may be used to expel a number of gay Iranians from Sweden, to face imprisonment or death at home.

Swedish asylum policy is governed by the Aliens Act of 1989. An amendment which came into effect in 1997 (Chapter 3, paragraph 3.3) explicitly includes gays and lesbians as a protected category, offering asylum to any person "who due to her/his sex or homosexuality experiences a well-founded fear of persecution."

However, according to Stig-Ake Petersson, asylum coordinator of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian and Gay Rights (RFSL), the specific language has in fact tightened rather than broadened the opportunities for receiving asylum based on sexual orientation. The authorities' interpretation of the term "well-founded fear of persecution" has in practice been extremely restrictive. The term, according to Petersson, is taken to require each applicant to produce court documents from their home country demonstrating that she or he is currently under legal investigation for homosexuality as a criminal offense.

The first person to receive asylum based on sexual orientation after the explicit inclusion of homosexuality in the 1997 legislation was a gay man from Iran. His case had been pending since 1994. According to the applicant, shortly after his arrival in Sweden, Iranian police had searched his former domicile and found evidence of his homosexuality. They had informed his parents that, if they found their son, they would execute him as they had already done with his former lover.

In deciding on his case, the Swedish Government found that, in Iran, homosexuals do not face persecution solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, but only on the basis of the practice of their sexuality. The Government further claimed that the death penalty for sodomy is no longer enforced in Iran--although reports indicated that it had been carried out as recently as November 1997. However, in May 1998, the Government nonetheless granted asylum to the individual applicant, recognizing that the publicity surrounding his case might place him at risk on his return, while denying that his homosexuality per se might endanger him.

The Government's precedent-setting finding about the absence of persecution in Iran, however, creates impediments to the cases of a number of other gay and lesbian Iranians still awaiting decisions on their asylum applications in Sweden. A recent decision by the Aliens Appeals Board has made it likely that most of these applicants will not be granted residence permits in Sweden, and will be repatriated to Iran.

RFSL contends that Swedish immigration policy is placing these persons' lives in extreme danger. It asks for urgent letters of protest to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Aliens Appeals Board. These letters should refer to Case UN 98-05283. They should remind the Government that there is strong reason to suppose that gay and lesbian Iranians repatriated to their home country will face not only social ostracism but criminal penalties ranging from cruel and unusual physical punishment to imprisonment and death. They should also remind the Government that unreasonable requirements upon applicants to produce documentary evidence of their own legal situations are simply unnecessary: they can only detract attention from the substantial and credible evidence of a climate of homophobic persecution existing in Iran. They should remind the Government that Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights--which in this, the fiftieth anniversary of its promulgation, has achieved the unquestioned status of customary international law--guarantees that "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution." The Government's attempts to deny this right by irrationally burdensome bureaucratic requirements threaten to situate it outside the pale of open and civil polities.

Direct your letters to:

Aliens Appeals Board (Utlänningsnämnden)
Box 45102
Telefax: 46-8-30 15 39
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Utrikesdepartementet)
Pierre Schori
Telefax: 46-8-723 11 76