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Only hope kept Iranian refugee prisoner going

By Lavinia Ngatoko

5/5/07 Iran (ANS) — Thomas Yadegary says he is “over the moon,” now that he has been released after spending two years in the Auckland Central Remand Prison – but he knows he still has a long fight ahead of him.

The Iranian chef, who converted to Catholicism after arriving in the country in 1993, was arrested in November 2004 after refusing to sign a waiver to deport him back to Iran .

He still faces the possibility of being deported, since his ruling on bail was quite separate from any final judgment on whether he can stay in New Zealand .

Before his imprisonment he had tried to gain refugee status a number of times, but had failed.

The Immigration Service continued to maintain that he faces no real danger if he returned home, despite clear evidence that he would be persecuted because of his new-found faith.

Mr Yadegari says he is “terrified” of ever returning to his former homeland, where it is compulsory to be a Muslim, and hopes he will get his permanent residency here.

His sister in Iran has refused to even talk to him since she learned of his conversion, and he has not been in contact with his three brothers for years.

He says that although it had happened in the past he did not think his family members would go so far as to kill him if he returned, but they would almost certainly report him to the authorities.

Muslims who converted to Christianity faced a potential death penalty in Iran .

He credits the overwhelming support from people, including his parish of St Benedicts in Newton , Auckland , for getting him through what he says were the most difficult, lonely and frustrating years of his life.

“My release was a long time coming. It was just so hard for me in prison,” he says.

“I prayed most of the time and read my bible. The verse I often turned to was Psalm 64, because it talked about freedom and hope.

“I am also grateful to all those people who rallied around to support me. This is a beautiful country and I had always dreamed of living here.”

He says he will never forget the eve of his release on April 5 when Auckland ‘s Catholic Bishop Pat Dunn washed his feet and welcomed him during the Mass of the Last Supper at St Benedicts.

Mr Yadegary was released on strict bail conditions, which require him to report to the police three times a week, as well as obey a curfew from 7pm to 7am.