22 Aug 2009

Iranian refugee genuine, say supporters

7:04 am on 22 August 2009

An MP and a senior clergyman are standing by an Iranian man's claim to be a genuine Christian convert, despite an accusation he manipulated supporters to help him gain refugee status.

The Refugee Status Appeals Authority granted Ali Panah refugee status in February.

Its report, which casts doubt on the credibility of his conversion to Christianity, has just been published.

It reveals that the authority believed Ali Panah's claim was fraudulent, but that he deceived his supporters, who then publicly revealed his stated conversion, increasing his risk of harm in Iran and creating grounds for a genuine asylum claim.

Green Party immigration spokesperson Keith Locke raised Ali Panah's case during his hunger strike in 2007.

He says he found Mr Panah to be a dedicated Christian and knowledgeable about the Bible. Church members and workmates attested to his faith.

Archbishop David Moxon says the apparent contradictions in Mr Panah's story can be put down to his language abilities, complexities of the process and his personality.

Brother Damian Kenneth, with whom Mr Panah stayed in Hamilton until two months ago, says he had no doubt of the Iranian man's faith.

Mr Panah's lawyer, Grant Illingworth, QC, says the panel did not give any weight to his supporters' view that he was a genuine convert.

Mr Panah's supporters say he is still a practising Christian, months after gaining refugee status.