Last edited: January 25, 2005

Sexuality Persecution Grounds for Asylum Court Rules, December 9, 2003
Sydney, Australia Bureau

By Peter Hacker

Sydney, Australia—A gay Bangladesh couple has won a landmark judgment in Australia’s High Court which ruled persecution over sexuality could be grounds for refugee status.

The men fled Bangladesh, where homosexuality is illegal, in February 1999. Australia’s Refugee Review Tribunal ruled they were not entitled to refugee status saying that because they could keep their sexuality secret by being closeted there was no proof they would be imprisoned on their return.

Their names cannot be published under Australian law.

The men, who lived together in Bangladesh from 1994, said they had been ostracized by their families and had been mobbed and beaten over their sexual orientation.

The Tribunal’s ruling was upheld in the Federal Court. But the High court disagreed. The 4-3 decision, in which openly gay justice Michael Kirby found with the majority, said that gay asylum-seekers fleeing sexual persecution on a par with people fleeing religious or political persecution.

The court also ordered the government to pay all costs in the case.

The ruling means the case will now return to the Tribunal where it is expected the men will be granted permanent asylum.

“We are grateful to the court, to our lawyers and to Australia,” one of the men told The Australian newspaper. “We want to live here for the rest of our lives.”

It is believed that Canada is the only other country which grants asylum to people fleeing homophobic persecution.

The couple’s lawyer, Bruce Levet, predicted the judgment would have a wide impact.

“Refugee decision-makers all over the world follow each other’s rulings, and the outcome in this case has the potential to influence decisions in all countries that accept refugees,” Levet said.

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