Iranian religious opponent seeks asylum

Ankara, Turkey - An Iranian woman, the leader of an atheist sect who has been held in custody in Turkey for the past month, is seeking asylum. Iran would execute her if she returned, she says

Accused of fomenting religious hatred, Nigar Azizmuradi, the Iranian head of the Raelian Movement who was recently taken into custody in Turkey for using a fake passport and who faces almost certain death back home, has requesteed asylum from U.N. authorities.

A former cinema student at Tehran University, 31-year-old Nigar Azizmuradi has sought asylum because she is afraid of being executed in Iran as a political and religious opponent.

The Raelian Movement believes that aliens created humans and that such information is written in all holy books but has been misinterpreted by humans. Azizmuradi is the head of the movement in Iran and identifies herself as a “moderate Islamist.”

“My only fault is to be a moderate Islamist. [Iran] treats moderates as non-religious and executes them,” she said in talking to family members who were visiting her in Turkey. She has been in custody for a month and was being held in a guesthouse for foreigners.

Last year, the Iranian secret service determined that she was working for the Raelian Movement and broke into her house, examining her computers, files and cameras, according to the information she gave her family in their visit. “They took me into custody and questioned me for three months,” she said. “Every morning at 7 they took me in for questioning until 2:30 p.m..”

The secret service was also alleged to have conducted an investigation about her mother, father, sister and friends. They later forced Azizmuradi to sign a paper indicating that she would not participate in these kinds of activities again.

“I was determined to participate in marches and gatherings in support of [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s competitor Mir Hussein Mousavi during the elections, and I was taken into custody again. They brought me near water infrastructure pipes and beat me. My arm was broken. Other protesters saw me being beaten – they saved and treated me. I decided to run away after I came to,” she said.

With a fake passport, Azizmuradi came to Turkey and proceeded to Kenya in preparation of a trip to Britain. Upon arriving in Kenya on Oct. 19, however, police in the airport realized her passport was fake and sent her back to Turkey.

“My morale is so bad because of what I have been through in the last year. My lungs are sick. Other refugees smoke too much,” she said. Azizmuradi also called on Turkey to support her.

Majority wants her to stay

Most of those who took an online poll conducted by the daily Hürriyet at demanded that she not be sent back to Iran. Almost 500,000 people voted in the online survey and 98 percent said she should be sent to another country. Only 1.7 percent wanted Azizmuradi to be sent back.

“A great majority of people opposes Nigar’s execution for being an atheist. It means they believe that not having a religion or being atheist deserves to be freely expressed,” Fatih Çekirge, a columnist at Hürriyet, wrote Monday.