Iranian asylum seeker and beauty queen fears deportation from Philippines

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Iranian asylum seeker, Bahareh Zarebahari, may be at risk of being deported to Iran where she could face detention and torture, said Amnesty International today.

A decision on her case is reported to be imminent. She is entering her fourth week in detention, trapped in the transit area of Manila’s NAIA airport.

Zarebahari, who has lived in the Philippines for the past five years and represented Iran at the 2018 Miss Intercontinental beauty pageant in Manila, was detained upon arrival in Manila from Dubai on October 17, 2019. Philippine authorities acted on an Interpol Red Notice placed on her by Iranian authorities. She has still not been told what charges she faces in Iran.

She has since been held in a room in Terminal 3 of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino international airport. According to reports, the Red Notice relates to an offence the Iranian authorities alleged she committed in Iran in 2018 but Zarebahari says she has not travelled to Iran since 2014.

“Bahareh Zarebahari has been a vocal critic of the Iranian authorities and a public opponent of forced veiling. If the Philippines authorities send her to Iran she risks arrest, torture and other ill-treatment, and unfair trial and imprisonment,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia.

A dentistry student in the Philippines, Zarebahari has been vocal about her support for Iran’s former crown prince, Reza Pahlavi.

In a media interview on October 21, Zarehbahari said that her problems in the Philippines began after she participated in a beauty pageant. She said she began receiving threatening messages from an official in the Iranian embassy in the Philippines who told her she had to visit the embassy for questioning.

Markk Perete, Undersecretary at the Philippine Department of Justice, said that “the only reason she was held at the airport […] is only because of that Red Notice issued against her.”

On November 06, Philippines Senator and Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience Leila de Lima raised concerns about Bahareh Zarebahari’s case and urged the Philippines government to consider her asylum application in compliance with international human rights law.

Under international law, all states are entitled to regulate access and residence of foreigners on their territory and return people who are irregularly present on their territory to their country of origin.

However, like any other state, the Philippines is bound by the principle of non-refoulement, which is the cornerstone of refugee law, enshrined in customary international law. Under this principle, governments are prohibited from sending anyone to a country where they would be at risk of serious human rights violations. (Source: Amnesty International)

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