German court tells lesbian asylum seeker to hide identity in Iran

German Justice Minister Katarina Barley arrives for the weekly government cabinet meeting on March 13, 2019 in Berlin, Germany.

A German court rejected the asylum application of Samira Ghorbani Danesh, an Iranian lesbian refugee who fled Iran in 2009, with the justification that she can hide her homosexuality in Iran and avoid criminal penalties.

In a telephone interview on Thursday with, Katayun Pirdawari, who is a German-Iranian and a member of the Lesbian and Gay Federation of Berlin-Brandenburg, said that Samira won an extension of stay on Thursday until the case is fully litigated.

Ms Pirdawari had launched a campaign to secure asylum for Samira and bring about changes in Germany’s asylum law. “Our action brought success,” she said about the extended permit for Samira.

Nonetheless, Ms Pirdawari sharply criticized the asylum law for being “nebulous” and denying freedom and sexual freedom to asylum seekers and forcing refugees to hide their sexual orientation. She organised an open letter directed to Germany’s interior ministry.

In addition to the right of asylum for Samira, the letter calls for no deportations of homosexuals to Iran, as well to countries where criminal penalties apply to homosexuals. A prominent gay member of Germany’s parliament, Volker Beck, from the Green Party, signed the letter. The full letter in German can be read here.

According to Iran’s Sharia system, the death penalty is applied for same-sex sexual activities. Tehran’s clerical rulers punish male same-sex intercourse with death, and lesbian sex with 100 lashes for the first three offences and execution thereafter.

Samira Ghorbani Danesh fled Iran in 2009 and made her way from Turkey to the southern German state of Bavaria. She told the daily Die Welt paper on Thursday that she attended a gay and lesbian party in 2009 and could see from the balcony the dark cars of the notorious Basij secret police approaching.

She said she knew that the situation had become dangerous. “Alcohol is banned in Iran, and western music.“ She warned the other party attendees and fled into a neighbour’s apartment.

Ms Ghorbani Danesh who is now 24-years old, said: “I was around 15 or 16 years old when I noticed that I am lesbian.” She added that her parents did not know that she is lesbian. She maintained a secret three year partnership with her lover, S, who can only be identified by an initial to avoid reprisals in Iran.

A spokesperson for the German court told Die Welt that the court had doubts about Ms. Ghorbani Danesh’s contentions that she was persecuted in Iran.

Samira, however, asked: “Why should I make something up and leave my family and friends?“

In an email to on Thursday, Saba Farzan, a German-Iranian human rights expert, wrote: “I’m shocked and outraged be the court’s decision to send Samira back to Iran where she would be in grave danger. This decision must be changed immediately and Samira must be guaranteed to continue to live in Germany – only here she will find safety and opportunities to live and love the way it makes her happy.”

Farzan, who graduated from the University of Bayreuth in Northern Bavaria, said the “judge’s statement that Samira should cover her sexual orientation not only lacks tremendous lack of the terrible situation for homosexuals inside Iran – being in serious danger and under immense repression by a brutal regime – but it also lacks moral clarity.

“When we learn that a young Iranian woman was forced to leave her native land simply because she chose to love women we need to do everything to welcome her in this country and ultimately chose to be on the right side in defending the legitimate rights of homosexuals.”

Dr Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, a prominent German-Iranian scholar who has authored books and essays on the repression of minorities in the Islamic Republic, told that “it is bad that refugees are being sent back to Iran because one knows that they will face persecution.“

He continued that “Germany has a gay foreign minister and its capital city has a gay mayor and , as a result, Germany should be sensitive for such topics, but, unfortunately, is not.”

He noted that if Ms Samira Ghorbani Danesh is deported to Iran, she will immediately be imprisoned and could face torture and the death penalty. He urged the authorities in Germany to not deport her to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based investigative reporter and a Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.