MANILA: A decision on Iranian beauty queen Bahareh Zare Bahari’s application for asylum in the Philippines could be made this week, officials revealed on Monday.
If the ruling goes against her, 31-year-old Bahari will be sent back to Iran where she faces either execution or 25 years in jail.
“The (Philippine Department of Justice’s) Refugee and Stateless Persons Protection Unit (RSPPU) is expected to resolve Ms. Bahari’s application for asylum this week. Until then, she remains within the Philippine territory,” justice undersecretary and spokesperson, Markk Perete, told Arab News.
“In the meantime, the Office of the Secretary issued last week a memorandum guidance to the Bureau of Immigration (BI) reiterating the right of all asylum applicants to access to counsel.”
Earlier, Perete had said that they “really cannot say (how soon Bahari’s application would be resolved).”
He added that in certain cases, an early resolution was possible when international organizations, particularly the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), had a ready report on the political situation in the applicant’s country which could be used in the evaluation of an application for political asylum.
As Bahari awaited the ruling, she remained under custody of the BI at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport, although Perete stressed the former Miss Iran was “not being detained.”
The official said: “Right now she’s under custody of the immigration ... She’s not being transferred to the BI detention facility in Bicutan, Taguig because she cannot be detained by virtue of her application for political asylum. That’s why she remains in the airport.”
Meanwhile, detained Filipino Senator Leila De Lima urged the government to “seriously consider” Bahari’s application.
“(The) Right to non-refoulement, or the right not to be returned to a country where one would be at risk of persecution or faces threats to his or her life or freedom for reasons of, among others, political opinion.
“This well-recognized principle under international human rights law should be foremost in the minds of relevant authorities … in tackling the situation of Bahareh Zare Bahari,” she said in a statement issued from her cell in Campe Crame where she has been detained on drug charges since 2017.
“I urge our authorities to seriously consider Ms. Bahari’s application for asylum anchored on her political beliefs,” De Lima added. She also called for the UN Commission on Human Rights to look into the case.
Bahari, who has been studying dental medicine in the Philippines since 2014, is the subject of an Interpol red notice issued by Iran and faces possible deportation. She remains stranded in terminal 3 of the Manila airport after being intercepted on Oct. 18 upon her arrival from a two-week vacation in Dubai.
She denies any wrongdoing, saying charges against her were trumped-up. She claims her activities and criticism of the Iranian government, and her support for human rights and gender equality, have made her a target of persecution from her own government.
In January, Bahari appeared at a pageant carrying a picture of Reza Pahlavi, an Iranian opposition leader and founder of the National Council of Iran.
“I have used his (Pahlavi’s) photo in a beauty pageant and they (the Iranian government) are angry with me … If they [the Philippines] deport me (to) Iran, (they will) at least give me 25 years in jail, if they do not kill me,” she earlier told Arab News.