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New Zealand Church takes in threatened Iranian asylum seaker: CEN 9.07.07 p 6 September 7, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand & Polynesia, Church of England Newspaper, Immigration.


Ali Panah: Photo courtesy Anglican Church of NZ

An Iranian asylum seeker has been discharged from state custody into the care of the Anglican Church of New Zealand, following a 52 day hunger strike.

Immigration Minister David Cunliffe announced the government had given Ali Panah, a convert to Christianity, his parole from Auckland Central Remand Prison on Sept 3 due to his “parlous” physical state, but stated he could be deported at any time.

On Sept 2, Archbishop David Moxon of New Zealand, and the head of the church’s social justice commission, the Rev. Anthony Dancer visited Panah in prison. They stated that although “some in authority” had questioned whether “Ali Panah is a bona fide Christian”, they were convinced of the truth his faith.

“Ali has been obedient to Christ’s command” and had been a witness to the faith, they said. “His former boss, his workmates, his Vicar and his fellow parishioners testify that he has sought to share his faith whenever possible.”

Returning Panah to Iran “would be unsafe for him,” they said, and they were “gravely concerned” for his safety should he be sent home, as “the number of people executed by the Iranian State each year is thought to be second only to China.”

However the government argued Panah was in no danger of harm if he were deported home to Iran. On Sept 3 Mr. Cunliffe stated “there’s been no reported case of a deportee being killed or severely persecuted on return to Iran.”

“Mr. Panah is still subject to a removal order and could be removed at any time, if and when that becomes possible,” he said.

Panah has been held in administrative custody for 20 months for refusing to sign papers that could lead to his deportation from New Zealand to Iran. He has won the backing of the Anglican Church of New Zealand, which has pleaded for the government to exercise clemency on his behalf.

The Iranian asylum seeker had exhausted his legal avenues of appeal, the government minister said. One review panel found Panah’s claims “implausible and inconsistent” while a second said his evidence had been “fabricated and found him not to be credible”.

Mr. Cunliffe said the Church was not in possession of the “full facts” of and urged it to review the matter more closely.

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