Iranian Christian reprieved

02 November 2006

THE Interior Ministry in Germany has granted an Iranian asylum-seeker who converted to Christianity the right to stay in the country, after church groups and human-rights activists warned that she could face a death sentence if deported.
Zahra Kameli, who is 24, has been living in the German state of Lower Saxony for the past four years. During this time, she converted to Christianity and left her husband, whom she had been forced to marry at the age of 16, for another man.
Punishments in Iran for adultery and abandoning the Islamic faith are severe, and activists warned that Ms Kameli could have been stoned to death if she was sent back to her home country. A fortnight ago, the state government in Lower Saxony agreed unanimously to grant Ms Kameli the right to stay for another three months. Churches in Lower Saxony have welcomed the decision.
Ms Kameli, whose application for asylum was originally turned down by German authorities, suffered a breakdown at the airport earlier this month during an attempt to deport her.
She was able to remain in the country only because the pilot of her Lufthansa flight to Tehran refused to take off. More than 100 protesters had gathered at Frankfurt Airport to stop the deportation.
Germany's federal interior minister, Otto Schily, had earlier rejected calls for Ms Kameli's asylum case
to be reopened, despite arguments from refugee organisations that Ms Kameli should have been given special consideration under new immigration laws. These are aimed at protecting refugees from persecution for gender-specific reasons.
Pastor Peter Lahmann, who christened Ms Kameli in Göttingen, said he was outraged by claims that her conversion to Christianity was "not believable . . . It is infamy to claim that. She expressed a sincere wish to convert to Christianity and has lived within that faith ever since," he said.
Heidrun Merk, from the state's Petition Committee, which recommended the move, said that the State Interior Minister, Uwe Schuenemann, had assured Ms Kameli that the temporary permission to stay would be extended to a permanent-residence permit.
Ms Merk said that sponsors had been found to cover Ms Kameli's living expenses over the next year.

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