Brighton campaigers successfully prevented the deportation of an Iranian dissident journalist who faced torture and persecution.
“Brighton’s first ever anti-deportation campaign, fought by Amir’s friends and supporters from grassroots groups!!! We did it!” - Friends of Amir
One in the eye for the Home Office last week as a swift intervention by Brighton campaigners prevented the deportation of an asylum seeker.
Amir Hassan, an Iranian web journalist, was arrested in a dawn raid on November 15th by Police and Immigration Officers, after the failure of his initial asylum application. He was served deportation papers and taken to Colnbrook, the brand new privatised detention centre near Heathrow.
Amir has been in Brighton for a year and in that time has made many friends and connections. As soon as he was arrested a campaign started. Over thirty people attended the first meeting. “Friends of Amir” includes supporters from the Migrant English Project, where Amir was studying, and the Brighton & Hove Unemployed Worker’s Centre.
A campaigner for Friends of Amir told SchNEWS, “The Home Office illegally abused Amir’s rights. They totally ignored the evidence which showed that Amir would be imprisoned on his return to Iran. They claimed that deportation papers had been served on Amir and his solicitor five days before his arrest. This was totally untrue on both counts.”
The Home Office refused to believe that Amir faced perseceution in Iran despite evidence showing that one person was sentenced to six months imprisonment simply for helping him to escape. Amir’s case exposes the hypocrisy of Neo Labour which condemns the regime in Iran on the one hand and then happily returns those who flees its clutches back to the claws of that very same regime.
Journalism in Iran is a risky business, especially for using the Internet to disseminate news the regime doesn’t like. This October, an article from Reporters Without Borders (RWB) reported that 20 European news agencies had protested the arrest of 5 Iranian journalists, all of whom had been savagely tortured and whipped with electric cables before being paraded on television to announce that their jailors had been as ‘gentle as kittens.’ Since the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President in June 2005, repression of journalists and web bloggers has increased. RWB also details how the Iranian regime is intensifying its attempts to control the Internet and using a private company to develop sophisticated software to ban unapproved sites. Those who seek to find ways around these bans are the subject of fierce persecution.
Amir ran the first private Internet company and web service in Iran. When the State decided to clamp down on Internet use and confiscate his company’s equipment, Amir protested; the result was his arrest on two occasions and an assault by a state employee and threats to his life.
In December 2004 Amir sought refuge in Britain. Once in the UK, the Home Office denied Amir protection at his asylum hearing despite him being wanted in Iran and in grave danger of being incarcerated for his activities as a liberal journalist. Given that the use of torture, execution and maiming are common in the Iranian judicial system, especially when the offence is deemed political, his life is in real danger.
Campaigners got Amir decent legal representation and petitioned his MP Celia Barlow. She contacted the Home Office and secured a three day stay while the case was reviewed. Despite this, an attempt was made to deport Amir at 4.00 am on Thursday 17th November. This was prevented only by the intervention of one of his neighbours, a teacher at Brighton & Hove City College, who drove to Heathrow in the middle of the night to intervene and literally thrust the relevant papers on the Immigration Service. In a letter to supporters Celia Barlow said, “Either intentionally or unintentionally I have been misled by the Home Office...” Another honest mistake from the Home Office then.
Pressure was sustained with pickets outside the Home Office as Amir was shuttled between three detention centres, eventually arriving at Dungavel in Scotland last Saturday. Finally on Tuesday 29th, Amir was released without bail until his second application for asylum is considered. He still faces the legal battle for refugee status, is still at risk of being detained and deported, but is at least back in Brighton with his friends and supporters.
A spokesman told SchNEWS, “The campaign’s been a great success and we’ve rocked the Home Office. This man was two hours from being put on a plane to Tehran; literally hundreds of emails, faxes and phone calls to the Home Office have prevented that.”
Of course Amir’s case is the exception. In fact it’s virtually unprecedented. Most people tangled up in the asylum system don’t have a fraction of the resources and time that was devoted to Amir’s case by volunteers. And the system just got tougher, with massive cuts in legal aid. Amir was unable to get legal aid to appeal the refusal of his first asylum application. Cases have been significantly speeded up of late and there are less grounds for appeal. Once an asylum seeker has lost their application they lose all right to financial support and are forced to live on charitable donations.
* Know someone in a similar situation? Get hold of A self-help guide against detention and deportation – For asylum seekers and their supporters. To order email email@example.com or contact National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns tel: 0121 554 6947 www.ncadc.org.uk
* Sarah Hatah and her five children were deported back to Uganda on 26th October, despite medical evidence proving she suffered torture in Uganda (SchNEWS 520). Thanks to a campaign by the Wigan Community Action Party, the council have a special meeting about the treatment of Sarah and other refugees. There’s a rally at the Wigan Town Hall, Library St., in support of her at 5.15pm, 7th Dec.