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
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
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
Ms Merk said that sponsors had been
found to cover Ms Kameli's living expenses over the next year.