|Jennifer Josef, ILGA-ASIA|
|Jennifer Josef, ILGA-ASIA|
The United States government denied political asylum to Ali Ahmad Asseri, the former first secretary of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, last week to avoid disrupting US-Saudi relations, according to a Saudi-American blogger and journalist based in Brazil.
Asseri argued that if he returned to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia he would face execution because the country’s radically fundamental form of Islam mandates the death penalty for same-sex relations.
The Saudi-American journalist and blogger, Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, appears to have been the first writer to report on the asylum rejection. The possible deportation of Asseri to Saudi Arabia has electrified blog observers of the case over the last few days.
The Jerusalem Post’s e-mail and telephone attempts to secure on Saturday a confirmation and comment from the US State Department’s Middle East press section were not immediately returned.
In an e-mail response to the Post on Saturday, Abou-Alsamh, the Saudi-American blogger whose personal website "Rasheed's World" first broke the story about the denial of the asylum application, wrote, "As far as I know the US government has not yet officially commented on Asseri's denial of asylum, but from comments that I have read after I wrote my post, it seems that political asylum cases are often denied in first instance and then approved later when the applicant appeals."
He added: "I do think the US government is afraid of unnecessarily annoying the Saudis, especially now with all of the turmoil that the Arab world is going through because of the Arab Spring revolts."
Abou-Alsamh, who has written for The Washington Times and other US-based publications, reported on his website that Ali al-Ahmed, a Saudi dissident in Washington, said in a phone interview that “This was a political decision by the Obama administration, who are afraid of upsetting the Saudis.”
“His initial interview with Homeland Security was very positive, but then they came back and grilled him for two days after they found out that he had worked in the public prosecutor’s office in Saudi Arabia,” Alsamh continued.
“He had been an inspector to make sure that judicial punishments, such as lashings, were carried out within the law – not more, not less. They then accused him of participating in a form of torture,” Ahmed said on Abou- Alamh’s website.
Ahmed said that Asseri intends to appeal the denial of his application and the process could meander its way through the judicial process over the next few years.
Last year, the US news organization MSNBC first reported on Asseri’s decision to remain in the United States. According to an article from the MSNBC national investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff: “Ali Ahmad Asseri, the first secretary of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, has informed US Department of Homeland Security officials that Saudi officials have refused to renew his diplomatic passport and effectively terminated his job after discovering he was gay and was close friends with a Jewish woman.”
In addition to his sexual orientation, Asseri’s friendship with a female Jewish Israeli appears to be a factor for concern if he returns to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh does not recognize Israel’s existence and there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries. The Saudi Kingdom’s media and educational books are steeped in hatred of Israel.
Stuart Appelbaum, a prominent gay rights activist in New York and head of the international trade union Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, wrote the Post by e-mail on Friday. “If the United States government refuses to grant asylum to a gay diplomat because it is afraid of the Saudi reaction, then the US will become complicit in his fate. It is exactly because of how Ahmad might be treated on his return to his homophobic and brutal land that the United States should grant him refuge.”
Appelbaum played a key role in the New York State legislative decision to pass a marriage law for same-sex couples this year.
Dr. Phyllis Chesler, a New York-based expert on gender relations, wrote the Post on Friday, “This is further proof that the Obama administration’s foreign policy is one of self-destructive appeasement and that despite its presumed commitment to civil rights and human rights, that commitment does not extend to Muslim women, Muslim dissidents, or Muslim gays – nor does it extend to the right-of-survival of religious minorities (Christian, Jewish, Bahai, Zoroastrian) or to apostates.
“This decision refuses to countenance the reality of Islamic gender and religious apartheid and has chosen a ‘hands off’ policy vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia’s persecution of ‘out’ gay men,” Chesler wrote.
Saudi Arabia’s government policy of lethal homophobia has sparked outrage over the years from some human rights activists.
The subject of state-sponsored murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities across the Muslim world has been a long neglected human-rights issue, according to NGO Monitor, the Jerusalem-based watchdog organization, which monitors the role of NGOs in the region, including Israel.