Telegraph: An Iranian policeman who fled the regime after refusing an order to shoot protesters has emerged as one of the first batch of asylum seekers facing deportation to Rwanda.
The father of two has told The Telegraph of his fears of being assassinated in the African country if his deportation goes ahead. He said he would prefer to “die now” than endure not knowing his fate, in an impassioned plea to the British government not to carry out his removal.
He was smuggled across Europe and was picked up by the Royal Navy in international waters a month ago.
He was served with papers ordering his deportation to Rwanda but the order was stayed after his lawyers lodged an appeal with the Home Office. Activists say he could be put on a new flight at any time.
First flight to Rwanda
The first flight to Rwanda is due to take off on Tuesday from RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire although fewer than 10 migrants are expected to be on it. Under the terms of the deal, Rwanda is being paid £120 million to accept asylum seekers from Britain in a policy the Government hopes will act as a deterrent.
The man – identified only as Bahram – has spoken of his despair at the threat of being flown to the central African state. He had previously given testimony against the Tehran regime to the Iran Atrocities Tribunal, hosted in London.
Bahram, who is being held at an immigration removal centre near Gatwick Airport, said: “How many more countries will punish me just because I refused to kill peaceful protestors and told the world about it?”
Not knowing his fate is agony for him. “I’d rather be deported now and die immediately than wait,” he said, adding: “It feels like I am being sent to my death. I know that if I am sent to Rwanda, I will either be assassinated there or sent to Iran where I will face a death sentence. It feels like everything I have done so far has been for nothing.
“It looks to me like I am being punished for standing up against injustice. I stood up against orders to shoot at innocent protestors because it was unfair and I testified at the tribunal to let the world know.”
Hanging over his head
He had been due to fly out on Tuesday but the ticket was cancelled, a move described as “bittersweet” by human rights activists campaigning for him, who believe the threat “hangs over his head” unless the policy is scrapped. The Home Office letter informed him that he remains at risk of deportation and stated: “You will be given further notice of your removal from the UK.”
Bahram, speaking from Brook House Immigration Removal Centre, said: “I have been under a lot of stress since I arrived in the UK. When I was given a letter and told that my ticket had been cancelled, I couldn’t feel anything, I felt numb.”
Bahram, 42, fell foul of the Iranian authorities in November 2019 when he “disobeyed direct orders to fire at innocent people”. He was taken into custody, according to human rights activists, and subjected to three months of psychological torture.
“He was interrogated and shown a document claiming his wife and children had died in a car crash,” said Shadi Sadr, a human rights lawyer and organiser of the Iran Atrocities Tribunal. “They put Bahram in solitary confinement for 97 days; the size of the cell was like a very small blanket and he had to use the toilet for drinking water.”
Bahram was a police commander when he was told to shoot on protesters during nationwide protests over rising fuel prices and calls for the supreme leader Ali Khamenei to be overthrown. Bahram refused the order and was imprisoned for three months.
Flight to Turkey
Threatened with a further five years in jail, he fled to Turkey, leaving his wife and two young children in Iran. In Turkey, he testified by video link before the Iran Atrocities Tribunal, an independent commission investigating alleged crimes committed by the Iranian authorities during the uprising. With his voice altered and his face blanked out to hide his identity, Bahram told the tribunal that “security forces were given the direct order to shoot”.
His evidence was crucial, explained Ms Sadr, in a comment piece for The Telegraph (see below): “Although the tribunal was aware of nationwide and systematic shooting, an officer in a high position making that claim was a damaging blow to the Iranian regime; the pressure on his family increased ten-fold, and Bahram determined Turkey, where he had been hiding for a year, was no longer safe.”
Bahram paid $13,000 (£10,700) to people smugglers, enduring what his supporters described as a “formidable journey” involving a trip by container that took him across Europe. He told The Telegraph how he sailed in a boat with 50 to 60 other migrants from Turkey and was then “put in a shipping container and taken through a forest”.
He went on: “After this, they put us in a life raft. We floated around in international waters for a few hours until a British naval ship pulled us out of the ocean and took us to the UK.”
It is unclear where Bahram ended up but he was plucked from the English Channel by a Royal Navy patrol boat on May 14, exactly a month ago. He was taken to a detention centre in Bradford and then to the location near Gatwick.
“Brook House is,” he said, “essentially a prison.” He claimed he is “let out” of his “cell” for half an hour a day and that “everyone here is on edge and in distress”. Bahram said: “We have no idea what our future holds. People have very little hope here, many are considering suicide to avoid being deported to Rwanda. We worry about whether we will ever be able to be safe again.”
Activists insist Rwanda has close ties to Iran and they fear a deal will be done that leads to Bahram’s extradition to Tehran to face trial.
Bahram’s “biggest concerns” are for his family back home. It is claimed his father was arrested and his wife sacked from her job. His nine-year-old son, according to Ms Sadr, was “interrogated by security forces at school”.
Bahram is astonished and distraught at his treatment since arriving in Britain. “When I reached the UK, I had no idea this is where I would end up. What I expected from the UK is to recognise me as a refugee. I am only looking to be given basic human dignity and respect.”
‘Bahram was treated the same as a criminal’
By Shadi Sadr and Darya Nili
In November 2019, a police commander in Iran stood up to a powerful regime and disobeyed direct orders to fire at innocent people. His punishment was three months of drawn-out torture, an arduous journey across continents and a last plea for safety, a basic human right. Instead of being greeted with open arms, Bahram* was treated the same as a criminal by a country that prides itself on acceptance, and given a one-way ticket to Rwanda scheduled for June 14. Bahram’s ticket has been cancelled, but the threat of removal hangs over his head.
The UK Government claimed these asylum seekers entered the country illegally, to justify its Rwanda plan. The 1951 Refugee Convention asserted that state parties, including the UK who once helped draft it, shall not impose penalties on account of their illegal entry or presence.
Nevertheless, Bahram and those who arrived on the same boat were still in international waters when they were thrown a rope by a British naval ship. Our men took them to our shores. How can we call their entries illegal when they had no choice in the matter?
Before Brexit, the Home Office could send asylum seekers back to the first EU country they entered, using the Lisbon Treaty. Now that the Conservatives have proudly taken control of the UK’s borders, they can no longer deport any asylum seekers back to the EU, even if they passed through safe countries.
When you speak to Bahram, he appears a hopeful, yet suffering man, with a soft voice you would not associate with a police officer. A former accountant, Bahram was forced to take another job when the company went south. He did not think he would be given an order to shoot innocent people one day.
His voice, though altered, was first heard in November 2021. He came forward to tell his story at the Iran Atrocities Tribunal, an independent tribunal in London investigating alleged crimes committed by Iranian authorities in the November 2019 protests.
Bahram was given a group of 60 officers to lead during the protests that saw thousands dead or gravely wounded. His resistance saved the lives of dozens. He was arrested and spent 97 days in solitary confinement in deplorable conditions, where he was forced to drink out of the toilet. His days were filled with long interrogations, where he was convinced that his wife and young children had died. However, this was not sufficient grounds for the Home Office – psychological torture, according to them, is not torture.
Once he had fled Iran when out on bail, he revealed – despite an official Islamic Republic narrative – that security forces were given the direct order to shoot. Although the tribunal was aware of nationwide and systematic shooting, an officer in a high position making that claim was a damaging blow to the Iranian regime; the pressure on his family increased ten-fold, and Bahram determined that Turkey, where he had been hiding for a year, was no longer safe.
Having endured a formidable journey, Bahram was ecstatic to be safe for the first time in years, a hope that was crushed two weeks later. To add salt to the wound, the High Court ruled in favour of this blatantly anti-immigrant policy. On June 10, the injunction that would have stopped the flights until the legal case was heard in July was refused.
“How many more countries will punish me just because I refused to kill peaceful protestors and told the world about it?” Bahram said.
It seems that the Home Office is twisting the facts of this deal: all those transferred to Rwanda will have their cases reviewed by the Rwandan government, despite never having applied for asylum in Rwanda.
The refugee convention obliges the states where asylum is sought to assess the asylum claim of an individual fairly and thoroughly, and determine whether their case falls within the definition of refugee or not.
The UK Rwanda plan of offshoring its obligation to a third country creates a situation not foreseen by the convention. Therefore, it places the asylum seekers outside the protection of the convention and in a circumstance of ‘lawlessness’.
By forcing asylum seekers to go to Rwanda, the UK Government also violates the fundamental rights of these individuals to decide where they seek asylum for themselves and strips them of their dignity.
In addition to this, the Home Office is putting their lives in the hands of a country where the judiciary lacks independence and fails to investigate abuse. The narrative of Rwanda being a safe alternative, when its human rights violations have been blatant, is a mockery of international law and evidence presented by the UNHCR.
“I’m certain that I’ll die if I go to Rwanda. I’ll either be assassinated or deported to Iran to face death. I’d rather be deported now and die immediately than wait,” Bahram said.
The news of Bahram’s ticket being cancelled is bittersweet. The letter sent by the Home Office said “you will be given further notice of your removal from the UK”. The risk of being put on another flight to Rwanda hangs over his head, despite public pressure, and will until the Rwanda plan is scrapped altogether.
“I have been under a lot of stress since I arrived in the UK. When I was given a letter and told that my ticket had been cancelled, I couldn’t feel anything, I felt numb,” Bahram said.
His biggest concern is for his family still in Iran, who were pressed to reveal his location since the day he fled for Turkey. His father was arrested, his wife fired from her job and his nine-year-old son interrogated by security forces while at school. He fears that the same will happen if he is sent to a country that Iran’s authorities can easily access.
Bahram is one of hundreds who risked their lives and their families’ lives to come forward to testify against the atrocities of the Iranian regime in November 2019.
When the UK Government decides that human lives are not worth protecting, where do these brave, yet persecuted individuals have to turn to?
*Bahram is a pseudonym. His name has been changed to protect his identity.