Iranian man who rejected Islam granted refugee status in a precedent setting case

May 09
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Iranians are coerced to follow Shiite Islam
Iranians are coerced to follow Shiite Islam

Monday, 9 May 2016

A young Iranian man who rejected Islam and moved to New Zealand has avoided deportation and been granted refugee status in a precedent setting immigration case.

The man, whose identity is protected for legal reasons, is now in his twenties and moved to New Zealand during the 2000s for schooling after running into trouble with the state-controlled education system in Iran.

A 97-page Immigration and Protection Tribunal decision describes an intelligent man, who from an early age rejected the version of Islam taught in schools and openly questioned the Islamic republic's regime.

He was brought up in a secular home, he did not attend a mosque and described aspects of religious education taught in Iran as "ridiculous" and "barbaric."

The tribunal said the case was unusual, as members were being asked to consider whether deportation to Iran and the likelihood of conscription to the military could amount to persecution under international human rights law.

In school, he objected to religious instruction consistently and was sent by his parents to complete education in New Zealand, where extended family, including grandparents, had settled.

At a young age, he questioned teachings about the rights of women, the status of followers of the Baha'i faith and objected to compulsory prayer.

His parents grew increasingly worried their son's rebellious streak spelled trouble. Being forced to perform prayer left him depressed.

"He found much of what he was being taught "stupid" and soon began to get into trouble at his primary school because of his outspoken views about religion and Islam.

"When aged approximately eight or nine, he began getting into trouble at school for "always challenging" his teachers in religious instruction classes.

"The appellant also objected to aspects of Sharia law taught in these classes. In particular, he objected to teachings that women had fewer rights compared to men, as he had been brought up to believe that everybody should be respected equally.

"He also objected to being taught that, under Sharia law, it was permissible for the hands of thieves to be cut off."

His viewpoint was shaped by incidents involving the state. On one occasion, his father was arrested and detained for playing keyboards at a party and his mother was harassed for minor dress code violations

Conscripts to the Iranian forces must declare their religion but the man told the tribunal he planned to leave the form blank if he was inducted, a form of protest that could spell a death sentence

Iranian men are liable for compulsory military service when they turn 18. General conscription runs for 30 years and includes up to 20 years as a reservist.

The tribunal decision said the man described the regime as a "religious dictatorship," which compulsorily taught a version of Islam he rejected.

He did not want to serve in a religious army and the tribunal said if he did serve as a conscript he would be serving in a military force responsible for internationally condemned conduct.

There was a risk of harm if he was conscripted and a real fear of persecution around returning to Iran for military service.

"The enforced attendance and prayer, teaching and enforced religious practice during his period of military service amounts to coercion to have or adopt a religion or belief he does not hold. 

"A striking feature of this case is that the appellant is a young man who has, for all intents and purposes, grown up as a young New Zealander and, as such, has been further imbued with a strong sense of entitlement to personal freedom."

The first claim for refugee status in 2012 failed and a subsequent appeal also failed. A judicial review was granted and, in 2014, the High Court sent the case back to the tribunal.

Two cases with similar legal issues will be heard in May and the tribunal's decision, which sets a precedent for the consideration of the legal definitions of persecution, will be presented during those proceedings.

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