Iranian beauty queen pleads for asylum in the Philippines
An Iranian beauty queen is seeking asylum in the Philippines, fearing for her life after Tehran demanded her extradition for a crime she claims she did not commit.
Bahareh Zare Bahari, who represented Iran at the 2018 Miss Intercontinental pageant in Manila, and who has studied dental medicine in the Philippines since 2014, has been held for six days at the country’s Ninoy Aquino airport after Iran slapped an Interpol Red Notice on her for alleged assault.
In a series of messages, the distraught Ms Bahari told the Telegraph that the case was a “big lie,” adding that she believed she was being targeted for her political activism and outspoken support of women’s rights. If she was deported to Iran, “they will kill me,” she said.
Markk Perete, undersecretary at the Philippine department of justice, said that “the only reason she was held at the airport - and we really don’t call it detention - it is really restraining her from entering the Philippine territory, is only because of that Red Notice issued against her.”
He added that the request had been made “presumably on account of a pending criminal case against her in Iran, and this case was filed by an Iranian national against her in relation to an assault that happened presumably here in the Philippines.”
However, Mr Perete said that the Philippines was unaware of this allegation, and that an earlier accusation of commercial fraud against her had been dismissed.
There were no criminal cases pending against Ms Bahari, he confirmed. “We don’t have any cause for refusing her entry for violation of our laws.”
Ms Bahari’s asylum plea is now being considered by the justice department, with the help of a lawyer.
Meanwhile, the dental student is confined to Terminal 3’s transit area awaiting her fate. “There is no updating, no information about the reason why [they] keep me here so long,” she said.
She believes her political statement at the pageant - waving a poster of Reza Pahlavi, the exiled former crown prince, and one of the foremost critics of Iran’s Islamic government - made her enemies in Tehran.
Mr Pahlavi's name has been invoked by some Iranian groups who have called for a return of the monarchy to deal with corruption and poor economic conditions.
“I used his photo on stage to be [the] voice of my people because all news and media are ignoring my people,” she said.
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called for “a fair and impartial hearing of her claim” in Manila.
“It’s absolutely critical the Philippines provides Bahareh Zare Bahari with support, including access to legal counsel, to compile and file her asylum application,” said Phil Robertson, HRW deputy Asia director.
“While waiting for the details to become clear, there should be no action under Iran’s Interpol red notice, especially since under Interpol rules a red notice is null and void if the person named in the notice is found to be a refugee fleeing from the state that issued it.”
There are thousands of Iranian students in the Philippines. If she is granted asylum, other Iranans in the Philippines may be recalled and forced to be sent back to Iran. Or they may request asylum, too, except perhaps those whose families in Iran may be threatened by the government.