Victory: Ali Panah gains refugee status

Rebecca Broad The Spark April 2009

Iranian asylum seeker Ali Panah won refugee status in February 2009, after a protracted and public struggle, which began in mid 2007.

Panah was part of a larger group of Iranian immigrants who came to New Zealand as either refugees or asylum seekers, who were denied residency, and locked up inside Mt Eden remand center indefinitely.

Panah and four others came forward publicly after a prior campaign for the release of Thomas Yadegary was successful. They refused to sign documentation divesting the New Zealand government of accountability for their safety once deported back to Iran. They did this because they were in danger of becoming subject to state persecution in Iran for having converted to Christianity.

Panah undertook a hunger strike whilst in state custody. A public campaign giving solidarity and support to the Iranian detainees and calling for their immediate and unconditional release was undertaken by Global Peace and Justice Auckland, International Hope and Peace, Workers Party, anarchists, and other activists and community groupings.

This attracted significant media coverage, which escalated after 5 protesters locked themselves onto prison property and were arrested.

Panah won bail into the custody of his church in September 2007 after 53 days of hunger strike. Since then Panah has made three appeals to the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, the third being successful. The campaign was a real opportunity to forge unity with one of the most oppressed sections of the working class – the migrant community.

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