Saturday, August 29, 2009

Behnam Askari: " Decision soon" . Let's hope it's the right one.

WOMAN KNITTING, by Behnam Askari

BRILLIANT young artist Behnam Askari and his family, and their many friends, are waiting anxiously for news from the British Home Office, and if this government wants to do anything for its reputation and standing it had better be good news.

Behnam, 22, a student at University of the Arts London, has lived here since 2002, when his father who was working here brought the family over from Iran. Behnam was still at school in north-west London when the family heard two lots of bad news.

First, Behnam's father, who had gone back to Iran on a visit was arrested on political charges.

Then when he managed to contact Behnam's mother from Tehran it was to warn the family not to return to Iran or they too would be facing arrest and punishment. The charges all relate to two high school students who m the Askaris had let stay at their Tehran flat while the family were in England. The two had been caught in possession of anti-government leaflets, and police found printing equipment at the flat. For this, the Iranian regime decided that they must all be part of a conspiracy. Behnam is accused of "jeapordising Iran's national security".

Since Behnam's father's arrest in 2005, Behnam and his mother have been sentenced in absentia to 5 and 7 years' imprisonment, respectively. Behnam has been told he will receive 70 lashes, a barbaric punishment which constitiutes torture. His mother has been told she will receive 100 lashes. Their lives are in danger.

Despite the threat facing Behnam and his mother and younger brother if they returned to Iran, the British authorities hive been unsympathetic to the Askari family. Pupils at Behnam's school held a demonstration in his support, and one of his then teachers, Pauline Levis, took up a campaign on the family's behalf.

The Home Office turned down an asylum claim. A fresh claim for asylum, based on substantial new evidence, was submitted in April 2008. After an anxious wait of almost 17 months, Behnam has finally been informed that the fresh claim will be considered "soon".

The recent demonstrations after Iran's presidential election, the state violence, arrests and show trials, as well as reported deaths in prison, have drawn worldwide attention to the repressive character of the regime. The British government has criticised Ahmadinejad's regime. Now it has the chance to show some real support for freedom and human rights, and to show its compassion to a gifted young artist and a decent family.

Over 10,700 people, including many prominent figures, have so far signed a petition to the Home Secretary on the family's behalf calling for them to have the right to remain in the safety in the UK.
Following an agonizing wait of almost 17 months, a caseworker has finally told the family's solicitor that the Home Office will be considering the family's fresh claim "soon".

Let it be soon, and let the decision be the right one.
Behnam and his family must be given the right to remain in Britain. .


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