Gay Saudi Diplomat Seeks U.S. Asylum

Los Angeles — An openly gay Saudi Arabian diplomat in Los Angeles who requested asylum in late August said he had received death threats since making it public on Saturday that he had asked to be allowed to stay in the United States.

The diplomat, Ali Ahmad Asseri, was still awaiting word from American officials on his application Tuesday, and said he feared execution if he returned to his home country.

Mr. Asseri sent a letter Saturday to various news outlets saying that employees at the Saudi Consulate had harassed him after they began to suspect that he was gay and after learning that a close friend was a Jewish Israeli woman.

“My life is in a great danger here,” Mr. Asseri wrote in the letter, “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.”

On the phone Tuesday, Mr. Asseri said he had received several threats on his life this week since posting comments on a popular Arabic Web site that criticized “militant imams” and threatened to expose embarrassing information about Saudi royalty living in the United States. Mr. Asseri’s lawyer, Ally Bolour, said Saudi officials had terminated his position with the consulate and refused to renew his diplomatic passport.

“He has a tremendous amount of courage to put his life on the line like this and come out in such a public way,” Mr. Bolour said.

Mr. Asseri, who is in his 40s, had announced his intention to gain asylum “against my advice,” Mr. Bolour said. “I wish he hadn’t gone public.”

Nail al-Jubeir, a spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, said Saudi officials had not terminated Mr. Asseri’s position, but transferred him last spring to a post at the foreign ministry in Riyadh. Mr. Asseri said he has been in hiding since earlier in the summer, Mr. Jubeir said.

“His tour of duty in Los Angeles was completed after four years,” Mr. Jubeir said. “He applied for a one-year extension, and we granted that. But we didn’t renew his diplomatic passport because it was for his position in L.A., and his position does not exist there anymore.”

At the consulate, Mr. Asseri was a first secretary, “a person with a college degree who has about 12 years in the foreign service,” Mr. Jubeir said. Mr. Asseri has worked in diplomatic positions in at least two countries, he said.

Mr. Jubeir said possible consequences for a Saudi diplomat who announces he is gay “have not been discussed.” But, he added, “In general, homosexuality in Islam is unacceptable.”

The last Saudi diplomat granted asylum in the United States, Mr. Jubeir said, was Mohammed al-Khilewi in 1994. Mr. Khilewi, a first secretary for the Saudi mission to the United Nations at the time, applied after making public statements criticizing Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and linking the country to support for terrorist networks.

by Rebecca Cathcart
Source – The New York Times


November 17, 2011

Man Bites Dog, or Asylum Lawyer Supports Denial of Asylum

It’s not often that a distinguished asylum lawyer defends a decision to deny asylum, but it happened the other day.

The lawyer is Jason Dzubow, a member of the Washington, D.C. bar, who specializes not just in immigration law, but in the subset of asylum law.

The person denied asylum would normally be viewed with sympathy by the members of the immigration bar – he is Ali Ahmad Asseri, a former Saudi diplomat who turned out to be gay.

When Asseri was denied asylum here in the U.S., the Jerusalem Post announced that the U.S. government had made that decision to please the oil-rich Saudi government.

Not so, said Dzubow; the asylum decision-maker had no choice, because Asseri, before he came to the U.S. as a diplomat, had been an inspector in the public prosecutor’s office in Arabia, and one of his responsibilities was to make sure that judicial punishments, such as lashings, were, in fact, carried out.

The U.S. law is quite clear, the attorney wrote: “people who persecute others are barred by statute from obtaining asylum.” He continued, saying that the asylum system did exactly what it was supposed to do, deny asylum to Asseri, without any input from the White House or the State Department.

Dzubow then went into one of the many intricacies of the immigration law, pointing out that Asseri “is possibly eligible for Withholding of Removal and he is certainly eligible for relief under the UN Convention Against Torture (Saudi Arabia is known to torture and kill gay people.)” He pointed out, however, that the Asylum Office of USCIS cannot make decisions based on either of those grounds, something that only can be done by an immigration judge.

The lawyer charges the Jerusalem Post with “shoddy journalism” for failing to “Research the asylum law, which clearly indicates that a persecutor is not entitled to asylum.”

He also faulted the paper for failing to be precise about what unit of government had denied the asylum petition, though he suspected it happened at the staff level within USCIS.

All in all, a refreshing column!

by David North
Source – Center for Immigration Studies