REFUGEE APPEAL NO. 744/92 (1994)
H B
REFUGEE STATUS APPEALS AUTHORITY NEW ZEALAND
AT AUCKLAND

Before: J M Priestley (Chairperson) A C Coulam (Member)
Counsel for Appellant: Ms M L Robins
Representative for NZIS: No Appearance
Date of Hearing: 13 October 1993
Date of Decision: 30 March 1994

INTRODUCTION

The appellant is an Iranian national. He is married with two children. His wife and children live in Tehran. The appellant is 30 years of age. He arrived in New Zealand on 3 March 1992 and claimed refugee status on arrival at Auckland airport. He was interviewed by the Refugee Status Section of NZIS in August 1992. His application for refugee status was declined by letter dated 23 October 1992. From that decision the appellant has appealed.

CENTRAL ISSUE

At the hearing before us the appellant was represented by competent counsel who has had extensive experience in handling immigration cases of Iranian nationals and also handling refugee applications. At the 1992 interview with the Refugee Status Section the appellant was represented by different solicitors.

Counsel correctly identified the central issue of this case as being one of credibility. If the appellant's story is correct then it inevitably follows that he has a well-founded fear of persecution on the grounds of political opinion. He would fall within the ambit of Article 1A(2) of the Convention. If his story is true then there is a real chance that he would suffer severe punishment or possible execution, at the hands of the Iranian authorities if he were to return.

PROCEDURAL MATTERS

During the course of the hearing reference was made to possible supporting evidence which might be available from the appellant's brother-in-law, who at that stage resided in Florida. It was suggested by the appellant that the Authority itself might want to make contact with the appellant's brother-in-law. We declined this invitation as being inappropriate in the circumstances. Leave was, however, granted to the appellant to file a further memorandum relating to the brother-in-law. Leave was further reserved to make any other further relevant applications on or before 29 October 1993. In the event a memorandum attaching a brief statement from the appellant's brother-in-law was received by the Authority on 21 October.

At the date of the hearing the appellant was anxious to receive an indication from the Authority of its decision, even though full written reasons might not be available. The reason for seeking this indulgence was because of the imminent expiry of the passport of the appellant's wife in respect of whom, if the appeal was successful, arrangements would have to be made to travel to New Zealand. On the afternoon of the hearing the Authority's secretary was instructed to relay to the appellant's solicitors that, subject to whatever might be contained in any subsequent memorandum, the appeal would not succeed.

THE APPELLANT'S CASE

The appellant was born in Iran. He is one of three sons and two daughters. His father is a retired bank official. He left high school in 1978 or 1979 and started working in household appliance repair workshops. In 1985 he was called up for military service, which he completed in 1987.

The appellant married a school teacher by whom he has twin children. His wife and family continue to reside in Tehran.

Prior to his rapid departure from Iran on 20 February 1992 the appellant's life had been uneventful. He appears to have had no political involvement. His family do not seem to have suffered at the hands of the Iranian authorities.

January 1991 the appellant went to Japan. The reason for his travel to Japan was to attend a 45 day course. He in fact overstayed his permit, becoming an illegal immigrant in terms of Japanese law. He lived and worked in the Tokyo region for some eight months.

Approximately three weeks before his return to Iran the appellant states that he bought a copy of Salman Rushdie's book "The Satanic Verses" at the Tokyo Book Centre which is a book shop in the central Tokyo railway complex. He states that the book cost him 2020 yen and was a large hard covered blue book written in English.

The appellant's reasons for buying this book are somewhat uncertain. He said he thought the book was about Ayotollah Khomeini. The appellant could not read English. It was his vague intention to try to find somebody to read the book to him.

When he purchased this book the appellant was apparently with an Iranian friend. The reason for the visit to the book store was to buy a dictionary so his friend could sit his Japanese driving test. The Authority found the concept of a Farsi-Japanese dictionary an intriguing one given that both languages are written in totally different script and given further that the stated purpose of the dictionary was to enable the friend to become acquainted with the relevant rules of the Japanese road code. When asked by the Authority how this dictionary would assist either him or his friend who were totally unable to read Japanese script the appellant modified his evidence somewhat saying that the dictionary in question used the English language as an intermediate mechanism for translating from Farsi to Japanese and vice a versa.

By 1991, the position of Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" and the attitude of the Iranian authorities to it had become notorious. In evidence the appellant did not deny that he was aware that Rushdie's book had been banned by the Iranian authorities, was regarded as blasphemous, and that indeed in February 1989 Ayotollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa to the effect that it was the duty of all Muslims to kill Rushdie for writing a blasphemous book. The problems relating to the book and fundamental Muslim reaction to it remain unresolved.

The appellant for his part was somewhat vague as to how much he knew about the book. He certainly knew its title and author. He is less certain about the subject matter.

Having acquired this potentially lethal work the appellant returned to Tehran some three weeks later, smuggling the book through Tehran airport in a small bag which he had wrapped up in his jacket. The book was placed at the bottom of the bag surrounded by various gifts. Having got home he then kept the book in his house for approximately five months without telling his wife.

The appellant's alleged curiosity then got the better of him. He decided to obtain a translation of the book. He therefore asked his brother-in-law (his wife's brother) to translate the book for him. In the written statement provided for the Refugee Status Section the appellant stated:

"Therefore I asked one of my close friends who knew English very well to translate it for me. I had great faith in him. After 20 days... my friend told me to go to his house and collect the book that night."

In a further prepared written statement which the appellant produced to the Authority he again refers to the book being translated by his brother-in-law. The statement says:

"He goes back to Iran occasionally and he was in Iran at the beginning of 1992 and that was when I asked him to translate the book for me."

More will be said about the brother-in-law's position shortly. However, when the Authority asked the appellant whether it was feasible to translate a novel the size of "Satanic Verses" on a part time basis within 20 days, particularly if one had to type up or hand write the translation, the appellant again modified his story. What he received (and indeed had asked for) so he stated was not a full translation of the book but merely a precis or summary which amounted to approximately 60 or 70 pages of typed script.

The appellant's brother-in-law was of some importance. In evidence the appellant described him as a man who had a responsible position with the Iranian Central Bank involved in exchange control transactions. His brother-in-law, however, was also an American citizen. He had returned to live in Tehran (or at least to work there) approximately 18 months before the appellant left for Japan in January 1991. The appellant's story assumes that an Iranian who was apparently working in Tehran in a sensitive and responsible job, who was also an American citizen, and who because of his exposure to Western society and his facility with the English language would have a clear appreciation of the dangers of being in possession of this prohibited book, would assume the risk of translating it (or making a summary of it as the case may be).

In evidence before us the appellant stated that his brother-in-law was not prepared to commit himself to writing to corroborate the appellant's story because he was afraid of the consequences. At the time of the hearing the appellant's brother-in-law had returned to Florida where he was living. Subsequently, the appellant's counsel produced by memorandum a statement from his brother-in-law. In its entirety it states:

"This letter is to indicate that [the appellant] is a freiend (sic) and relative of us, we know for a fact that he has been grown (sic) in Tehran, Iran we know him for a long time. We also know his family very well, and last I heard he had traveled (sic) to New Zealand. Best regard (sic)" signed

Counsel's supporting memorandum reiterates the appellant's evidence that the brother-in-law was allegedly reluctant to set out any of the hard details and would not go further than this statement set out above.

The appellant's intriguing story continues. Twenty days after entrusting "Satanic Verses" to his brother-in-law he received a telephone call to the effect that the typed summary was ready for collection. The appellant therefore drove across Tehran on a motorcycle at night to collect it. He placed the typewritten sheets and the book into a sports bag and returned across Tehran in the darkness to his home. On the way he was stopped at a Komiteh roadblock. With more care than that displayed by their counterparts at Tehran airport five months earlier, the Komiteh searched the appellant and his bag. They discovered the book and the typescript. The book (written in English) was taken to a nearby Komiteh patrol car where the officer in charge apparently recognised the book immediately. The appellant was thus arrested and was transported immediately in a car to a Komiteh house for interrogation.

As we understand the appellant's evidence this building was not a proper police station or prison as such but was a "normal house". At this building the appellant was punched by various members of the Komiteh but was not seriously hurt. The interrogation began. During the course of the interrogation, however, an opportunity to escape presented itself. The appellant had a few quiet words to one of the Komiteh personnel. He asked to be taken to a lavatory. The interrogation stopped and, accompanied by this one Komiteh guard the appellant went to the lavatory. There he wrote the officer a cheque, drawn on one of his three Tehran bank accounts, for the sum of 60,000 toman. He pulled this cheque out of his cheque book and presented it to the guard, who allowed him to escape from the toilet by running out the door and leaping over a low wall at the back of the property.

The appellant did not return to his home but went instead to a house of a distant relative or friend. A few days afterwards a letter was received at the appellant's house, he believes from the Komiteh, which was unsigned but said that he was going to be killed because he wanted to change his religion. The appellant accordingly made arrangements to leave Tehran. With the help of an agent he illegally crossed the border with Pakistan by jeep.He travelled by bus from Quetta to Karachi and by train from Karachi to Islamabad whereupon, on a false French passport he flew to Malaysia. Then with the assistance of his agent he was able to travel to New Zealand, via Indonesia. The entire journey took approximately a fortnight.

Since the appellant's departure from Iran he has learnt that his wife has been interrogated by the Komiteh as a result of which she has lost her job and is living off family savings. At the RSS interview the appellant stated in addition that his wife might have been so treated because the Iranian authorities have learned that he had applied for refugee status in this country. That aspect was not pursued at the hearing before us, however.

In a recent letter to the Authority the appellant states that he has received a letter from his wife advising that if there is no prospect of her and the children coming to join him in New Zealand she would like to obtain a divorce so that she and the children can resume a normal life. Albeit for some reason the appellant's wife is being penalised because of his absence overseas.

DECISION

The appellant's story is not credible. We do not believe it. We have no doubt that the appellant has told us lies. At the hearing before us we stressed to him the importance of telling us the truth. We also stressed to him that the hearing was the last opportunity he would have in New Zealand of obtaining refugee status. If the appellant indeed has some fear of persecution in Iran which he has not told us about, then he unfortunately has no-one to blame but himself for his predicament. However, the appellant's claim, based as it is on the narration which we have set out above is unbelievable and we reject his story in its entirety.

Our reasons for disbelieving the appellant and his story are as follows:

(a)We think it highly improbable that an Iranian of the appellant's apolitical background would be particularly interested in buying an English hardback copy of "Satanic Verses" during the last stages of his visit to Tokyo.

(b)We disbelieve the purported reason given for the appellant being in the Tokyo book shop in the first place and note the facility with which he constructed the improbable product of a Farsi/English/Japanese dictionary.

(c)We do not believe that an Iranian in the appellant's position would deliberately take the risk of smuggling into Tehran airport a copy of such a notorious prohibited work.

(d)We do not believe that a person who originally wanted a translation of the work would be satisfied with a typed summary of it and we note the way in which(as with the dictionary) the appellant changed his story when faced with sceptical questioning.

(e)In particular we do not believe that a person in the purported position of the appellant's brother-in-law, - a man with the benefits of American citizenship, the advantages of living in America, who was nonetheless working in a responsible and sensitive job in Tehran, would deliberately assume the risk of allowing a copy of "Satanic Verses" to remain in his house for 20 days let alone assume the risk of translating/summarising that work on his brother-in-law's behalf.

(f)We do not believe that the Komiteh, having made the "catch" of a man carrying both an English copy of a book in respect which a Fatwa had been proclaimed and a Farsi typed summary of the book would be so lax in their supervision as to allow the appellant to escape.

(g)We particularly do not believe (accepting as we do that bribery is prevalent in Tehran) that a guard, trusted with guarding such a significant offender as the appellant, would accept a bribe in cheque form.

There are various other reasons why we find that we do not believe the appellant and his story. However, it would be both tedious and unnecessary to deliver further minor blows to such a shattered edifice.

Two further matters, however, should perhaps be added. Firstly, we have grave difficulty in understanding why the appellant's brother-in-law, particularly if his own sister is in some jeopardy, should not be more forthcoming in his support of the appellant's story if in fact that story was true. Far from corroborating the appellant's version we instead take the view that the brother-in-law's written statement is at odds with the story.

Secondly, we note that this amazing tale was not initially proffered when the appellant made his refugee claim on arrival at Auckland airport in March 1992. In answer to various written questions the appellant stated that he had never been arrested, detained or imprisoned (NZIS file page 8) and gave as his reason for being fearful to his returning to Iran (NZIS file page 7) reasons which were solely economic. In a subsequent statement the appellant said that he was fearful of telling the "Satanic Verses" story at the airport because he did not trust the immigration officials. We shall, in the circumstances, make no adverse finding on that aspect apart from noting that such an explanation does nothing whatever to assist his claim.

Because the appellant's story is not credible he has not made out a valid claim for refugee status. The appeal is accordingly dismissed.

Chairman

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