Greens voice concern over health of hunger striker

Green MP Keith Locke today expressed concern about the deteriorating health of Iranian hunger striker, Ali Panah, after visiting him in Auckland hospital.

Mr Panah is on the 32nd day of a hunger strike protesting efforts to deport him. He has been in Auckland Central Remand prison for 18 months, after failing to win refugee status. He believes, as convert to Christianity, his life would be in danger if he returned to Iran.

“Mr Panah’s condition is distressing,” Green Party Human Rights Spokesperson, Keith Locke says. “He apologised for not being able to sit up to greet me. He is clearly suffering.

“I am writing to the Immigration Minister David Cunliffe to ask him to grant a humanitarian dispensation in Mr Panah’s case.

“There are a lot of points in Mr Panah’s favour. He has not committed any crime, and is highly commended by his former employer, Bruce Keane.

“New Zealand United Nations representative Rosemary Banks spoke last October of a ‘deterioration of human rights in Iran’, including the treatment of Christians; yet our government still wants to deport Iranian converts to a country where religious conversion from Islam is punishable by death. It would further be contrary to New Zealand’s commitment to the convention against torture to send him back to Iran.

“There is no question Mr Panah is frightened of his future in Iran, as a Muslim who has converted to Christianity. He has been willing to suffer 18 months in Mt Eden Remand Prison, and now a hunger strike, to avoid signing the papers Iran requires to receive him back.

“Despite his weak body, I found Mr Panah to be of strong will, heartened by his Christian faith,” Mr Locke says.

“Surely we could show some compassion and let him stay here?”