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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 17, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 38
Gay Saudi diplomat asks for U.S. asylum
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Gay Saudi diplomat asks for U.S. asylum

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A ranking Saudi diplomatic revealed on September 11 that he has asked the U.S. for political asylum.

Ali Ahmad Asseri, first secretary of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, told NBC News that Saudi officials refused to renew his diplomatic passport and terminated his job after discovering that he is Gay.

Asseri says he asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for asylum in August as a member of a 'particular social group' that is persecuted in his home country, namely Gays.

Being Gay carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

Asseri was questioned by a Homeland Security official in Los Angeles on August 30, but U.S. officials have yet to make a decision on his application.

Department of Homeland security spokesperson Matt Chandler told SGN that he could not comment on individual requests for asylum because that is forbidden by federal law.

The U.S. State Department was also invited to comment on this case, but they declined to do so.

U.S. officials did say, however, that in the past, requests for asylum on the basis of sexual orientation have been honored.

Asseri's lawyer, Ally Bolour, who specializes in asylum cases for Gay and Lesbian clients, said that other Saudis have been granted asylum by the Department of Homeland Security on the basis of sexual orientation.

Asseri said in a recent telephone interview with U.S. reporters that has been working at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles for the past five years.

His problems began some months ago, he said, when other consulate employees began to suspect he was Gay and began following him to Gay bars. They also discovered he was friendly with a Jewish woman from Israel.

It was some time after these discoveries, Asseri said, that consulate officials began harassing him, refusing to renew his diplomatic passport or provide him with badly needed medical treatment for a painful back ailment.

They also continued to monitor his private life and have demanded that he return to Saudi Arabia.

On September 14, Asseri said that he feared for his life - both here in the U.S. and even more so if he had to return to Saudi Arabia.

"My life is in a great danger here," he said, "and if I go back to Saudi Arabia, they will kill me openly in broad daylight. I want my voice to be heard, and I want them to know that I am not alone."

That same day, Asseri told the New York Times that he had received death threats since going public with his request for asylum.

"Words cannot express the anger I feel about how I have been treated," Asseri told reporters.

Asseri has also publicly criticized the Saudi royal family and threatened to reveal embarrassing information about Saudi officials living in the U.S.

In a recent letter that he posted on a Saudi website, Asseri angrily criticized his country's "backwardness" as well as the role of "militant imams" in Saudi society who have "defaced the tolerance of Islam."

In that letter, Asseri referred to "four princes" - whom he did not identify by name - "who are paid salaries and allowances from the consulate and do not work," but live in the U.S., "spending their time [on] tourism and relaxation as if they were created from light."

Asseri's request for asylum is highly unusual. No Saudi diplomat is known to have taken such a step since 1994 when Mohammed al-Khilewi, then first secretary for the Saudi mission to the United Nations, was granted asylum after publicly criticizing his country's human rights record and alleged support for terrorism.

Asseri's application could present an especially awkward dilemma for the Obama administration.

On one hand, Saudi government has long been one of the United States' closest allies in the Middle East. Saudi King Abdullah was warmly greeted by President Obama at the White House last June.

On the other hand, the Saudis have also been sharply condemned by the U.S. State Department and human rights groups for religious and political intolerance, including their persecution of Gay people.

The most recent State Department human rights report on Saudi Arabia notes that, in addition to denying political and religious rights to minorities, "under Sharia [Islamic law], sexual activity between two persons of the same gender is punishable by death or flogging."

The report noted that in one case reported in Saudi newspapers three years ago, two men in the Saudi city of Al-Bahah were publicly lashed 7,000 times after being found guilty of sodomy.

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