New evidence dismissed without hearing.
London – 21 December 2006
Twenty year old gay Nigerian asylum seeker, Emmanuel Obahiaghbon, was deported back to Nigeria on Monday 4 December 2006, on the orders of the Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne MP.
Mr Obahiaghbon had claimed asylum on the grounds of persecution because of his homosexuality. A psychiatrist had visited him in detention and confirmed that he had symptoms of trauma consistent with having suffered physical and sexual violence.
Acting at Mr Obahiaghbon’s request, gay human rights group OutRage! had presented Home Office Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne MP, new evidence corroborating Emmanuel’s claims of persecution – including a Nigerian police warrant for his arrest on charges of homosexuality and a solicitor’s letter stating that he was likely to be sentenced to death by stoning. Emmanuel’s region of Nigeria is subject to Islamic Sharia law, which stipulates the death penalty for gay sex.
“The Home Office dismissed these new documents as fakes, without giving Emmanuel an opportunity to present them to an asylum tribunal or to have them independently assessed,” said Jill Power , the OutRage! asylum team coordinator who handled Mr Obahiaghbon’s bid to get a reconsideration of his deportation order.
“He was given no chance to gather corroborating evidence. The Home Office acted as police, prosecutor, judge and jury,” said Ms Power.
“Emmanuel had no solicitor and has a speech impediment that prevented him from adequately expressing himself.
“Peter Tatchell and I were appointed by Emmanuel as his interim legal representatives. On his behalf, we asked the Home Office Immigration Minister to suspend his deportation, in order to allow him time to find a new solicitor, make a fresh asylum claim based on the new evidence, and to get corroboration that the police warrant and solicitor’s letter were genuine.
“Emmanuel only recently discovered that a warrant had been issued for his arrest on charges of homosexuality and that he was likely to be tried under Sharia law and face the death penalty. This was a huge shock to him.
“We faxed the Home Office letters from Nigeria confirming that he was wanted by the police on charges of homosexuality, that he was disowned and denounced by his family, and that he was likely to face trial by Sharia courts and be sentenced to death by stoning. These requests were rejected by Liam Byrne, without any proper hearing,” said Ms Power.
“The deportation of Emmanuel is typical of the routine abuse of gay asylum applicants by the Home Office,” said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!
“He was given no chance to prove the genuineness of his new evidence. They bundled him onto a plane as fast as they could, to stop him from challenging their arbitrary dismissal of his letters from the Nigerian police and solicitor.
“Labour claims to support gay human rights, but we see little evidence of this support in the cruel way gay asylum seekers are mistreated by the Home Office.
“Labour Ministers could stop these abuses, but they don’t. They are personally responsible for deporting lesbians and gays who have presented evidence of being queer-bashed, jailed, tortured and raped.
“Labour has lost its heart and soul. It seems more interested in pandering to the anti-asylum hysteria of The Sun and The Daily Mail, than in ensuring justice for gay refugees,” said Mr Tatchell.
Background to the Emmanuel Obahiaghbon case
Male homosexuality is totally illegal in Nigeria. It is punishable by 14 years jail under criminal law and, in the Muslim regions, by stoning to death under Sharia law.
From the age of 14, rumours started at school that he was gay. Because of this he was verbally abused or beaten up 2-3 times a week, both at school and in his neighbourhood. After he left school he continued to be attacked by members of his community.
Among some Nigerians, homosexuality is seen as linked to witchcraft and spirit possession. Consequently, he was also accused of occultism.
In 2004 he relocated away from his family’s region of Nigeria, and began his studies at university. But soon the same pattern of abuse started – verbal and physical attacks by groups of men.
In April that year, he went to a police station to report being gay-bashed. The police were abusive and accused him of occult activity.
While at university he was gang raped by students on two occasions. After his previous negative experience, he was afraid to report the rapes to the police.
Because of the abuse, threats and violence, Mr Obahiaghbon was forced to leave university.
Emmanuel and his lover were seriously beaten up. He went into hiding.
During a public campaign encouraging citizens to help the police by giving information on criminal activities, Emmanuel was reported to the police as being “addicted” to occultism and homosexuality. The police collected testimonies from the accusers, with a view to beginning criminal proceedings.
Fearful of arrest, he flew to the UK
In his absence, a warrant was issued for his arrest on charges of homosexual offences. He did not become aware of this warrant until 30 November 2006 (see below).
His family responded to police enquiries though their family solicitor. Concerned about the allegations of homosexuality, they organised a private investigation which revealed that the allegations of gayness were true. Believing that homosexuality brings shame to the whole family and community, Emmanuel’s family disowned him. They say same-sex relations are taboo and Emmanuel is an abomination. He is better dead than part of the family, in their opinion.
The family report Emmanuel to the Sharia law authorities and ask them to exercise the maximum penalty of death.
30 November 2006
The family solicitor advises Emmanuel that he is being sought by the police and Sharia law officials and that, if apprehended and tried under Sharia law, death by stoning is likely the punishment. This is the first time he is aware of the arrest warrant and of his likely trial and execution under Islamic law. Hence his bid for a fresh asylum claim based on this new evidence.
He was also advised by his family’s solicitor that a Lagos newspaper had reported that the police are looking for him. The press report accuses Emmanuel of being a notorious homosexual.
Home Office Determination
The Home Office accepts that Emmanuel is gay but says that since Nigeria is a vast country he can relocate to another region where it is not known that he is gay. Although Home Office officials acknowledge that homosexuality is illegal, they claim it is tolerated by the authorities if conducted in private.
4 December 2006
Liam Byrne’s officials dismiss Emmanuel’s request for a suspension of the deportation in order to give him time to find a new solicitor and make a fresh asylum claim. They allege that the letters from the police and the family’s solicitor are not authentic. They refuse to give him more time to demonstrate the authenticity of the letters. Emmanuel’s asylum claim is deemed to be unfounded and he was forced onto a plane by Home Office-contracted security guards and deported back to Nigeria.