Gay Iranian Desperate to Stay in Japan
March 24, 2001
By Harumi Ozawa, Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Shayda, an Iranian man who has been detained by immigration officials for
almost a year at a facility in Ibaraki Prefecture, applied both for asylum and
a special residency permit after he was arrested in April last year for
overstaying his visa. He is desperate to stay in Japan because as a
homosexual, he could face death in Iran, his home country.
Shayda (not his real name) came to Japan in 1991. Although he initially had
tried to seek asylum in Western countries, which have granted asylum to
homosexuals, his application was rejected due to his lack of English-language
The Justice Ministry turned down both his requests for asylum and special
residency permit in July last year and gave the go-ahead to proceed with a
deportation order. At the moment, Shayda is asking the Tokyo District Court to
overturn the deportation order.
"This is the first case at least that I know of of a gay
foreign national fighting for legal status in Japan and seeking protection
from threats stemming from his sexual orientation," said Takeshi Ohashi,
an attorney representing Shayda.
Despite the unprecedented nature of the case, Ohashi stressed that Shayda
should have had a good chance of gaining refugee status. "The fact that
the Japanese government didnt grant him asylum actually is surprising,
because it should have done so in light of the fact that it has signed an
international convention on the status of refugees," he said.
The governments position
Representatives of the justice minister last week submitted to the Tokyo
District Court a statement explaining why the government is deporting Shayda.
The ministrys argument can be summarized as follows:
- No cases of gays being penalized in Iran solely on the basis of sexual
orientation have been officially reported.
- Shayda has neither been prosecuted nor served an arrest warrant in Iran.
Therefore, so long as he does not call attention to his sexual
orientation, his homosexuality will not pose a threat to his safety in
But the ministrys first point is debatable, because gays in Iran are
often prosecuted for their sexuality, almost always incorporated with other
charges. Ohashi, who specializes in cases involving foreign nationals, points
out that the second argument is simply unrealistic because it implies that
homosexuals can enjoy safety so long as they dont partake in sexual
activity with members of the same sex.
Although cases involving the oppression of homosexuals in Iran receive
little media coverage in Japan, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for
Refugees recognizes the persecution of gays in Iran.
A UNHCR report on Iranian refugees and asylum seekers refers to homosexuals
as one of five categories of vulnerable social groups in Iran.
It reads: "Homosexuality is forbidden by Islamic law, and will be
punished. Sodomy, defined as sexual intercourse with a male, is
punishable by death if both parties are mature, of sound mind and have free
Members of TeamS, a Tokyo group consisting of friends and foreign labor
union members supporting Shayda, have also researched cases regarding
homosexuals in Iran through sources like Amnesty International, Homan a
magazine established in Stockholm by gays and lesbians exiled from Iran an
Iranian human rights group and Iranian daily newspapers.
According to the groups research, at least 14 people have been killed
for sodomy or sexual deviation since 1990, although their charges were often
incorporated with other allegations, such as espionage.
Nassim, who works with Homan, elaborated on the reality that gays in Iran
must face. "If I tell someone in Iran that I am gay, my family will not
wait for the government to kill me, a member of my own family, with almost 100
percent certainty, will kill me and no one will ask him why," he said via
To Nassim, the Japanese governments position on Shaydas case
indicates "a typical Asian cultural view," and he condemned the
passivity of the Japanese government and its people regarding the struggle of
Iranian homosexuals for human rights.
"The question is not to have a secret place...but to have your sexual
orientation, homosexuality recognized in the law, and your love respected by
society," he said. "(This) is what we are struggling for, because
sexual identity is an important part of your human identity and that is why
gay rights is part of human rights."
According to Ohashi, Shayda has already come out as being gay and is
actively involved in the Iranian gay movement as a contributor at Homan, which
in effect nullifies the defendants second argument. "Even if he were
to hide his homosexuality, which would save him from persecution, he would be
denying himself the freedom of expressing love in public, which would silence
an important aspect of his identity for the rest of his life," he said.
"It would be difficult for homosexuals in Iran to remain silent about
their sexuality, but it would be even more destructive to revoke the freedom
of sexual orientation from someone who already has begun a new life in Japan
based on his true identity as a homosexual," he added.
For Shayda, however, staying in Japan is more than just a matter of a
self-identity, because he could face great danger, even death, if the
government does not retract its deportation order. Nassim urged: "If
Japan will not let our Iranian gay friend to stay in Japan, it should not send
him back to Iran, but let the UNHCR help him to find a safe place
Caught up in legalities
Shayda came to Japan alone. He made friends, worked and became accustomed
to his new life, which offered freedoms that were unthinkable in Iran.
Still, it took about eight years for him to come out as being gay, because
he found it extremely difficult to declare his sexual orientation to the
Iranian community in Japan. "In retrospect, though, he should have
applied for asylum before he was arrested," said Masaki Inaba, a member
But according to Inaba, Shayda chose to wait for the UNHCR to recognize him
as a refugee, rather than risk having the Japanese government turn down his
application, and in the meantime, he overstayed his visa.
It would be easy to blame Shayda for allowing his situation to turn from
bad to worse, to the point of overstaying his visa and being arrested. Sure,
he would be in a better position today had he come out as being gay and
appealed to the government for asylum the day he arrived in Japan instead of
after being caught overstaying his visa.
"If only he could have acted with reason," Ohashi said
sarcastically, referring to the "reason" of people who do not need
to escape their own country.
"Back in their home countries, asylum seekers consider government
officials as people who are working against their interests. How can you
expect people who cannot even consult with their own lawmakers to put faith in
Japanese government officials?" Ohashi said. "Most asylum seekers
are not high-ranking North Korean officials, just ordinary people. It is
unrealistic to expect people like them to arrive in a new country and seek
legal help immediately."
The next proceeding of Shaydas case is scheduled for May 8 at the Tokyo
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