An Iranian Christian, whose bid for asylum has already been twice rejected, is facing the prospect of imprisonment, torture and separation from his English wife and child if the Home Office rejects his application again.
Reza Karkah, 38, now lives in Bradford with his wife Leigh and four-year-old daughter Bonnie. Having re-launched his bid for asylum in the UK, he has good reason to believe he would be executed by authorities and exposed to vigilante violence if deported to Iran.
Christian persecution in Iran
His case, supported by the Christian Legal Centre and backed by expert witnesses, exposes extraordinary assumptions made by Home Office officials that Reza as a Christian convert would not face any risk of persecution if he returns to Iran.
According to the Open Doors Watch List, Iran ranks ninth in the 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. It states:
“Christianity is seen as a Western influence and a threat, and all ethnic Persians are seen as Muslims. An ethnic Persian who leaves Islam can face the death penalty or imprisonment for ‘crimes against national security’ and it’s illegal to produce Christian literature or hold services in Farsi. Much of the persecution of Christians comes from the Iranian government.”
However, in a tribunal judgment on Reza’s case by the Home Office in 2018, it was ruled that if he was deported to Iran, it would not “expose him to a real act of persecution.” This is despite Reza’s Christian baptism alone being punishable by death under Sharia Law.
A life transformed
Reza grew up in a Muslim family in Iran but fled to the UK in 2003 in fear for his life.
After his initial asylum bid was rejected in 2004, he was thrown onto the streets and became a homeless drug addict and petty criminal.
He met his wife on the streets, but in 2015, both of their lives were transformed after they became Christians through the help of a local church that had been offering them support through an outreach programme.
After being baptised, Reza kicked his drug addiction and has now stayed out of the criminal justice system for five years. He is now highly active in his local church and undertakes outreach to Iranian Muslims and translates church services from English to Farsi.
Home Office rejects Christian faith
In November 2016, Reza made a second application for asylum, supported by his local church, but the judge ruled that he had fabricated his Christian faith. This was based on a 150-question interrogation, where Reza was able to answer a number of questions correctly, but under pressure and with some misinterpretation, failed to answer some basic questions about his faith.
The official concluded that his deportation and separation from his British-born wife and child would be distressing, but “not unduly harsh”.
Without having proper regard for Reza’s family unit, the Home Office suggested that once he 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 interest of children are to remain with both parents.”
Reza says he is now very uncertain about the future, despite renewing his application for asylum: “I feel weighed down and that my life is on hold. 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.”
Backed by expert witnesses
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Reza’s asylum application is backed by a witness statement from Dr Martin Parsons, an expert on relations between Christians and Muslims. Dr Parsons highlighted the dangers of vigilante violence Reza could face in Iran, stating, “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.”
Also backing his claim is Chartered Psychologist Michelle O’Sullivan, who concludes that Reza’s deportation would leave his wife in a vulnerable position, leading to “mental health deterioration” and “substance misuse.”
Anti-Christian bias in the Home Office
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. However, the problem is not only abroad, but also at home.
Reza’s case comes amid 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.
Reza’s story is not the first of a Christian convert being rejected by the Home Office on the grounds that his faith was ‘not genuine’. Last year, it came to light that the Home Office had rejected an application of another Iranian national who was quoted Bible passages which allegedly proved that Christianity is not a peaceful religion. Reza’s case is yet another that highlights the anti-Christian bias of the Home Office.
Figures are not available for how many Muslims or Christians have been granted asylum in the UK. However, according to the latest Freedom of Information inquiries the Home Office have answered, of the 17,013 Syrian refugees resettled in the UK between January 2014 and the end of June 2019, just 100 were Christians. Furthermore, Home Office guidance on assessing asylum claims from members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood 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 is despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood called on its followers to engage in jihad in January 2015 – a fact acknowledged by the Home Office guidance itself.
‘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.”
Find out more about Reza Karkhah