Christian convert fears for his life due to anti-Christian bias in Home Office16 February 2020 Issued by: Christian Legal Centre
A Christian asylum seeker who faces the prospect of imprisonment, torture and separation from his English wife and child because of his faith has re-launched his bid for asylum to the Home Office.
Mr Reza Karkah, 38 from Bradford, has good reason to believe he would be executed by authorities and exposed to vigilante violence if deported to Iran. According to the Open Doors World Watch List, the Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the worst countries in the world for violations of Freedom of Religion or belief, especially for Christians.
The case, supported by the Christian Legal Centre and backed by expert witnesses, exposes extraordinary assumptions made by Home Office officials that Mr Karkah as a Christian convert would not face any risk of persecution if returned to Iran.
In a tribunal judgment on Mr Karkah’s case by the Home Office in 2018, for example, it was judged that if he was deported it would not ‘expose him to a real act of persecution’. This is despite the fact that Mr Karkah’s Christian baptism alone would be punishable by death under Sharia Law in Iran.
The story highlights further anti-Christian bias in the Home Office when compared to other religions and groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and the need for expertise on the Christian faith to be introduced to the Immigration and Borders department in the government office.
This case comes amidst reports that not only are UK government officials treating Christian asylum seekers as ‘enemies’ in refugee camps in the Middle East, but also through the UK’s internal immigration system.
In July 2019, then-Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt published a ground-breaking report showing that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world and promised action.
A life transformed
Mr Karkah, who grew up a nominal Muslim, fled Iran for the UK in 2003 in fear for his life.
After his initial bid for asylum was rejected in 2004, Mr Karkah became a homeless drug addict and a petty criminal, meeting his now-wife on the streets.
In 2015, their lives were transformed when they both became Christians, being introduced to the faith by a local church’s outreach programme.
After being baptised, Mr Karkah kicked his drug habit, and has now stayed out of the criminal justice system for five years.
He is highly active in his local church and undertakes outreach to Iranian Muslims and translates church services from English to Farsi.
Home Office reject Christian faith
In November 2016, Mr Karkah made a second application for asylum, but the judge ruled that he had fabricated his Christian faith.
This assessment was based on a 150-question interrogation, where Mr Karkah answered a number of questions correctly, but under pressure failed to identify who betrayed Jesus and the denomination of his independent evangelical church. He also failed to answer a question on his favourite Bible passage because he misinterpreted the word ‘passage.’
The official concluded that his deportation and separation from his British-born wife and child would be distressing but would ‘not be unduly harsh’.
Without having proper regard for Mr Karkah’s family unit, the Home Office suggested that once Mr Karkah was deported to Iran, he could meet up with his wife and child halfway in a country such as Turkey.
This was despite the official admitting that there is a ‘plethora of case law that states that the best interests of children are to remain with both parents.’
Muslim Brotherhood members given asylum
Mr Karkah’s treatment as an asylum-seeking Christian is in stark contrast to how the Home Office processes applications from members of Islamist groups.
Home Office guidance on assessing asylum claims from members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, for example, implies that senior members of the group should be presumed to be at risk of persecution by the state and therefore granted asylum unless there is clear evidence that they are personally involved in violence.
This despite the Muslim Brotherhood calling on its followers to engage in jihad in January 2015 – a fact acknowledged by the Home Office guidance itself (s.5.1.3).
Vigilante violence likely says expert witness
Now supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Mr Karkah’s asylum application is backed by a witness statement from Dr Martin Parsons, an expert on relations between Christians and Muslims.
Dr Parsons states in his report that: ‘If deported to Iran Mr Karkah is likely to face various forms of persecution as a Christian who has converted from Islam’, and that it is ‘likely the Iranian authorities are already aware of his Christian activities’.
Dr Parsons highlights the dangers of vigilante violence to Mr Karkah and provides expert analysis defending Mr Karkah in relation to the Home Office’s reasoning that he had ‘fabricated’ his Christian faith.
Mr Karkah posts frequent Christian messages on his social media accounts and has received comments in response from users in Iran, such as: “The intelligence service will take you to room number 5.”
Also backing his claim is Chartered Psychologist Michelle O’Sullivan, who concludes that Mr Karkah’s deportation would leave his wife in a vulnerable position, leading to ‘mental health deterioration’ and ‘substance misuse’.
‘My life could be taken from me at any moment’
Despite all of Mr Karkah’s progress, after years of rejection from the Home Office, he is very uncertain about the future despite the renewed application for asylum.
“I feel weighed down and that my life is on hold,” he said. “Knowing that I could be snatched off the street makes me nervous about leaving the house.
“We pray each time we go out that Jesus will have mercy on us. I now have a new life and a new hope. To think that this could be taken from me in a moment is horrible.
“I am afraid that my daughter will think I have abandoned her if I was deported.”
Mr Karkah met his wife, who was also homeless and struggling with drug addiction, in 2012. Together that same year they began attending a soup kitchen run by Sunbridge Road Mission Church in Bradford.
Though not recognised by the state (because of his non-settled status), they were married in church, and in 2015 had a baby girl.
“The people at the soup kitchen spoke to me about Jesus Christ, the Bible and the need for salvation,” Mr Karkah said. “They were kind and compassionate giving us access to a doctor, sleeping bags and clothing. I found hope, we both became Christians. Since then our lives have completely changed.
“My wife is unrecognisable from the dishevelled, broken and abused woman I met in 2012.”
Mr Karkah’s wife, Leigh, born in Yorkshire, said: “When I was down and out on the streets, meeting Reza changed my life. He was the first person who was kind to me. Now we are a family and I am a mother to a beautiful four-year-old daughter.
“I don’t even want to think about what they might do to my husband if he was returned to Iran. You hear such terrible stories.”
Sincere in their Christian faith
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, theologian and expert on international Christian persecution, said: “I have met Reza and Leigh. They both seem entirely sincere in their Christian faith and life.
“We continue to encourage the authorities in Iran to respect fundamental freedoms but it remains a dangerous place for Christian converts from Islam and Reza is at real risk of losing his liberty or even his life, whether judicially or extra judicially and deserves protection for himself and for the sake of his young family”.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Reza Karkah is the real deal. A courageous man transformed by the gospel and the hope of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“At stake here is not just the life of Reza, but also his equally brave yet vulnerable wife, and their beautiful daughter.
“We see in this case, and many others, that the Home Office has not properly understood the nature of Christian faith or the scale of the challenges faced by Christians in Iran.
“We call on the Home Office to grant Reza asylum and for the government to address the ignorance of Christianity demonstrated in its asylum assessments and procedures”.