“River of Fire”: In New Memoir, Sister Helen Prejean Reflects on Decades of Fighting Executions

The Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to resume the death penalty after a more than 15-year moratorium. This week Attorney General William Barr proposed fast-tracking executions in mass murder cases, and last month ordered the execution of five death row prisoners beginning in December. The federal government has executed just three people since 1963 — the last being in 2003. The death penalty is widely condemned by national governments, international bodies and human rights groups across the world. Experts say capital punishment does not help deter homicides and that errors and racism in the criminal justice system extend to those sentenced to death. We speak with Sister Helen Prejean, a well-known anti-death-penalty activist who began her prison ministry over 30 years ago. She is the author of the best-selling book “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty,” which was turned into an Academy Award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. …

Sweden rejects asylum for gay teen who fears execution in Iran

Carlo, left, and Mehdi
Swedish officials, confusingly, have claimed there is no 'new evidence'

Sweden has rejected the asylum claim for a 19-year-old gay teen who fears being executed in Iran.

Mehdi Shokr Khoda, who also identifies as Christian, was forced to sign a document today (9 July) to say he has three weeks to leave the country.

If he does not, he could be deported at any time.

Gay Star News has seen the rejection document by the Swedish Migration Court.

He was rejected on the basis there is no ‘new evidence’ after previous asylum claims. Swedish officials, confusingly, have also said international media attention on his case is unlikely to be read in Iran.

Terrified of being deported to Iran and execution

‘I cannot live open as a gay in Iran,’ Mehdi told Gay Star News.

‘They won’t understand something about you. They will just kill you first.’

In his corner is his partner, 23-year-old Carlo Rapisarda – originally from Italy.

The two of them have been together for about 18 months.

Mehdi followed his transgender sister, who fled to Stockholm from Iran a few years ago. Because she was granted asylum, he traveled to Sweden in 2017 in the hopes he would be given the same protection.

Their parents are unaware of their two children’s true sexual or gender identity.

Finding love in Sweden

Mehdi met Carlo on Tinder in January last year. The two quickly fell for each other and moved in with each other after six months.

At the end of last year, the Migration Board rejected Mehdi’s application as they thought he was lying.

They appealed the decision and went to court at the end of January 2019. Carlo testified for their relationship.

‘They want evidence,’ Carlo said.

‘We live together, we love each other, we’ve known each other a long time. Isn’t that evidence enough?

‘There’s not a scientific way – you can’t hook him up to cables and check.’

The couple also got a letter from the Swedish Federation for LGBT rights. It said: ‘There’s no doubt. Medhi is gay and in need of protection. ‘

They were once again rejected saying Mehdi was unable to explain his coming out process.

Fearing for his life, Mehdi spoke to Gay Star News and other media in February.

The couple then sent these articles to the Migration Board.

Rejected on basis of lacking ‘nuance’

Sweden’s government questioned why Mehdi had only been baptised when he came to Stockholm. They also said the 19-year-old’s ‘thoughts and reflections’ on Christianity were lacking.

Mehdi said his faith is private, something he learned to do in Iran.

‘You’re either Muslim or you’re dead,’ Mehdi added.

The couple also blames their failure on Mehdi’s original asylum claim on a ‘terrible interpreter’.

Slim chance at survival

Mehdi’s life is in immediate danger if he is deported in three weeks.

‘[Officers] will absolutely figure it out,’ he said. ‘They’ll ask questions.

‘If they find out I’m Christian or I’m gay or I tried to seek asylum, they will not understand that.

‘They will execute me.’

Mehdi and Carlo are hoping lawyers win them an appeal. Thanks to the international attention, they were able to raise money via their Go Fund Me page.

They could also get married. However, the intention to marry must be filed 21 days in advance.

‘Unfortunately we have no idea how to arrange all that in such a small timeframe,’ Carlo told GSN.

The couple met with a lawyer yesterday.

‘[Mehdi] will not be forcefully put on a plane as long as he doesn’t commit any crimes. Of course, he would still be undocumented, which means he can’t work, study, and has limited or no health insurance.

‘The lawyer told us that we can actually appeal this last decision, pushing the fact that the news articles represent an obstacle for the expulsion.’

The two long to start their lives together. Mehdi wants to finish school, get a job, and start a life where’s he free to be both gay and Christian.

‘I would like to be a pharmacist – make medicine – make people better,’ he said.

Source: Gay Star News, Joe Morgan, July 9, 2019

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