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The current Iranian crisis & on Iranian asylum seekers

Might there be another Iranian Revolution? If so, how will this affect asylum seekers from Iran?

The recent crisis in Iran (28th December 2017), is all-too-familiar with the dissatisfaction of the population echoing the déjà vu uprising of the 1979 Islamic Revolution which paved the way for the Ayatollah Khomeini, the country’s supreme leader in exile in France to return, and which destroyed what is believed to be the oldest monarchy in civilisation. Indeed, Cyrus the Great, the first Persian monarch (c. 600 or 576-530 BC), figures in the Hebrew Bible as the patron and deliverer of the Jews. He is mentioned 23 times by name and alluded to several times more. According to the Bible, Cyrus the Great king of Persia, was the monarch under whom the Babylonian captivity ended.

Who would have thought that it would have been ever possible to destroy the oldest monarchy in civilisation? Past revolutions have clearly shown however that monarchs and dictators govern only by the will of the people. This is a fact that has been tried and tested so many times time and the destruction of the dictatorships of the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Col Gaddafi of Libya, are just three examples of how the will of the people sooner or later will prevail above all else.

The Iranian regime has been rattled by the current protests in the last few days, in some 40 cities and towns. Posters of Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, were torn down and burnt in an act of defiance that has struck at the heart of the Islamic Republic.

The Ayatollah is the figurehead and the ultimate authority of the Islamic theocracy under which the government is controlled as is the judiciary and indeed all walks of life, by the religious leaders in the name of God. If the current demonstrations continue, it could bring about a further increase in the number of Iranians fleeing persecution for their political opinion or imputed political opinion or indeed due to their sexual orientation, from Iran, claiming asylum in Europe which will undoubtedly include the UK.

The Iranian people appear to be fed up with unemployment, shortages of goods and services, and the fact that Iran in many ways remains a social and political pariah in the world with few friends, and where people are restricted in expressing their views for fear of execution or imprisonment. There is therefore widespread anger at social and political stagnation.

The Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees 1951 and its 1967 protocol, permits a person who is out of his/ her country of nationality and is unable or unwilling to return to it for fear of persecution, to claim refugee status humanitarian protection in a third safe country. Europe is classed as a safe haven for asylum seekers. Convention reasons are one or more of the following: – race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, political opinion or imputed political opinion.

People are not able to voice their opinions in Iran, and not able to act in accordance with their sexual orientation. For example, Gays and lesbians face the death penalty or life imprisonment. Religious converts from Islam to Christianity also face the death penalty or life imprisonment. Those who attend secret church houses where conversion and baptism take place, also face the death penalty or life imprisonment. The United Kingdom has seen a huge surge in asylum seekers from Iran who are mostly afraid of returning due to their political or imputed political opinions, or because of their sexuality.

The situation in relation to Christian converts in Iran has deteriorated and is deteriorating day by day. Accordingly, more recent case law in particular in the matter of SA (Iran), R (on the application of), v SSHD (2012) EWHC 2575 (Admin), demonstrates this fact at paragraph 22: – “I have a concern about the Home Secretary’s treatment of the risk to apostates in Iran. Mr Jones referred to the Home Secretary’s own current operational guidance note on Iran, published in November 2011 which at paragraphs 3.8.6 to 3.8 .8 and 3.8.10 contends that Muslims who have converted from Islam are frequently persecuted, ill-treated and prosecuted for their beliefs. Any conversion from Islam to other religions is forbidden and considered as an act of apostasy. In recent years the reigning government and clerical leadership have viewed apostasy as an increasing threat to the structure of Iranian society. A letter from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office dated 30th of April 2010 stated that under Iran’s strict interpretation of Islam, anyone converting to another religion could face the death penalty or at least life imprisonment. Associated press recently reported that that Iran had arrested about 70 Christians since Christmas in a crackdown that has targeted grassroot Christian groups Iran describes as hardliners who pose a threat to the Islamic state.”

Over 300 arrests of Christians in 35 cities across Iran have taken place since June 2010. Detainees are typically held in insanity prisons, sometimes in solitary confinement with evidence of torture and interrogation tactics used against them on account of their faith. Excessively high demands some as great as £18,700, the confiscation of title deeds of detainee’s houses take place in return for their liberty.

Revolutions are sparked by unjust laws, crackdown on dissidents and also by the steady accumulation of social, economic and political dissatisfaction. I do not believe the current unrest in Iran can yet be classed as a revolution, but what started as a protest against the rising price of goods and services has escalated throughout 40 cities and thousands of people have taken to streets in towns across the country. Many have called for the abolition of the entire Islamic system of government under which Iran has been labouring for almost 40 years.

If the current situation continues it may become a revolution and the current regime and the supreme leader have much to lose. Regrettably, the influence of Islam as a religion has a controlling interest in virtually all the main sectors of the Iranian economy. As a result, Iran is one of the most repressed societies in the world. The gap between the Islamists elite and ordinary Iranians struggling with low wages, high unemployment and lack of opportunity is now as glaring as it ever was during the reign of the Shah.

I note and am not surprised that the Revolutionary guard reacted with iron fists against protesters and encouraged pro-regime supporters to come out in protest to show that the Islamic regime is alive and well. How long this pretence can last is a matter of conjecture.

It was the very problem of economic grievances and a burning sense of repression and injustice that fuelled the mass movement supporting the exiled cleric Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 bringing down the overthrow of the Shah some 39 years ago.

The Iranians are also concerned with the vast sums spent on supporting President Assad in Syria and arming the Houthis in Yemen. The money that is spent abroad in this way can be spent on the economy they say. Today’s protests are more serious than the demonstrations against the rigged elections of 2009 because they are more widely based. There is a real problem that can escalate into a revolution.

It seems that the people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being squandered by the Islamic regime, and while the whelming majority of the people of Iran are suffering from poverty, inflation and unemployment, most of the country’s wealth and revenues are spent on military and security apparatus and military and regional interventions, or is being looted by the regime’s leaders or goes into their bank accounts. This situation cannot continue much longer.

Dr Bernard Andonian

Consultant Solicitor

Head of Professional Development