53-day fast wins Iranian asylum in New Zealand

February 16th, 2009 - 7:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Wellington, Feb 16 (DPA) An Iranian man who went on a hunger strike for 53 days in a New Zealand prison to highlight his request for asylum was given permission Monday to stay in the country after his third appeal, news reports said.

Ali Reza Panah, who claimed he would be executed for converting from Islam to Christianity if sent back to Iran, was held in jail for 20 months for refusing to sign the travel papers he needed before he could be deported.

His hunger strike while in Auckland’s Mount Eden prison in 2007 generated widespread publicity, and his attorney Grant Illingworth told a news conference that the Refugee Status Appeals Authority reversed its earlier refusal, saying the publicity put him at greater risk if he were sent home.

Panah, who arrived in New Zealand in 2002, said he was relieved at the decision and looked forward to his new life in the country.

In 2007, then-immigration minister David Cunliffe refused appeals for Panah to stay, saying that people dealing with refugee cases had found a pattern of Iranians converting to Christianity in South Korea and then flying to New Zealand with sometimes irregular papers to seek asylum.

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