By Constantinos Psillides
AN Iranian man was arrested at Paphos airport on Tuesday for attempting to leave the country with a fake passport, and although this might seem like a routine case, nothing could be further from the truth.
The man in question has had an extraordinary 16-year history with Cyprus, much of the last five years behind bars because he cannot be deported to Iran and authorities here did not want to free him. He was considered “an undesirable immigrant” having been sentenced in 2007 to four months on drugs charges, and for the next five years held in Block 10, the precursor to the Menoyia detention centre.
As a result of his prolonged imprisonment, the man has contracted Hepatitis C (which according to his lawyer happened while he was in custody), lost 18 teeth and developed a stomach ulcer.
Using a fake passport to try and leave the country was “the desperate act of a desperate man” said his lawyer Michalis Paraskevas. “This was not an ordinary crime. We drove him to this. We should be ashamed,” he said.
“We left him in prison to rot, we destroyed his health and we refuse to let him leave the country.”
According to a report from the Office of the Ombudswoman on July 19, 2012, the man first came to Cyprus from Iran in 1998 and was deported in 2000 as an “illegal immigrant”. He claimed he fled Iran in fear for his life as he openly opposed the government there.
In 2001 he came back and in 2003 he submitted an application for asylum at the Cyprus offices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, who handled applications before Cyprus entered the EU.
His application was rejected in the first and second instance. When Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 he filed an application again but was rejected in 2006.
In 2007 he was arrested for possession of a controlled narcotic substance and sentenced to four months. He strongly contested his arrest, accusing the arresting officers of planting the drugs on him so they could have an excuse to throw him in jail. He was taken to the Central Prisons where he served his sentence and then moved to Block 10 on the prison grounds awaiting deportation.
Under EU law immigrants awaiting deportation cannot be held for a period over six months. In some instances, the member state can extend the holding period for an additional 12 months but under no circumstances is an immigrant to be detained over 18 months.
In 2008 the Iranian man filed a complaint with the Ombudswoman’s office, claiming that being detained had contributed in a deteriorating mental health, developing stomach ulcer and the loss of 18 teeth. She suggested to the interior ministry to free him on humanitarian grounds.
The ministry agreed but demanded that the man contacted the Iranian embassy to have a passport issued. He rejected the terms, claiming that contacting the embassy would result in him being sent back to Iran and tortured or killed.
The ministry refused to free him unconditionally, since “he was arrested for the serious crime of drug possession and he repeatedly refuses to cooperate with authorities”, according to a report in 2010. “To detain an individual in such conditions for so long simply because he is not cooperative borders on inhumane and humiliating treatment,” the Ombudswoman responded in her report, arguing that there was no “logical prospect” of deporting the man so he should be freed.
Immigration services and the interior ministry ignored the Ombudswoman but were ordered by the Supreme Court to release the man, after his lawyer filed a habeas corpus petition. In November 2012 the Supreme Court accepted the habeas corpus request and ordered the immediate release of the Iranian man. He was released in January 2013, on condition that within two months he contact the Iranian embassy to have a passport issued. He did not and went into hiding.
His lawyer claims that the Iranian man is a textiles expert and had a job waiting for him in a major Cyprus firm but can’t work because the authorities won’t issue a work permit.
The ministry rejected the lawyer’s request, which was the last straw for the Iranian man and he tried to leave the country with the fake passport on Tuesday only to find himself behind bars again.
“We threw him in prison for a total of five years, we can’t deport him because he is going to get killed and we don’t allow him to stay and get a job. At least we should let him go. He wants to escape,” the lawyer said.
The Iranian man is to appear before court on April 3.