Iranian poet Payam Feili’s three month visa to Israel is coming to an end, and he now seeks asylum in the country he says he “fell in love” with.
According to a report in the Jordanian Al Bawaba news website, the openly-gay Feili is requesting asylum from Israeli authorities due to the danger posed to his life if he were to ever return to Iran.
The report speculates that though Israeli officials are unhappy with his move to seek permanent residence after entering the country as a visitor, they are inclined to approve his request due to his situation.
Feili fled his native Iran last year because of the persecution he faced over his sexuality.
The 30-year-old poet stands out not only because of his arrival in a country so at odds with his own, but because of his professed adoration for the state some Iranian leaders have dubbed a cancer and have called to be wiped off the map.
Feili, who has written nine books, many of them openly discussing homosexuality, escaped to Turkey last year when the Iranian government’s threats against him and his family became unbearable.
He arrived in Israel late last year to see his latest novella, “I Will Grow, I Will Bear Fruit … Figs,” staged as a play in Hebrew in a Tel Aviv theater. While his always supportive family remains in Iran, he said he hopes to stay in Israel permanently.
Feili has nurtured a fascination with Israel since he was a youngster, when he began watching films about the Holocaust and started learning about the Torah. He has a coin-sized Star of David tattoo on his neck.
“I grew closer and closer to Israel and I fell in love with it,” he said.
Homosexuality is a taboo topic in Iran, where gays and lesbians can face lashings or death sentences if convicted. Human rights groups estimate that over 4,000 gays have been executed since the Islamic Revolution. Famously, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a crowd at New York’s Columbia University in 2007 that “in Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.”
According to the PEN American Center, a writers’ group advocating for freedom of expression, Feili’s email account was hacked and he was locked out of his online blog. He was arrested three times over four years, most recently in February 2014 after he agreed to have his work published in Hebrew in Israel, according to PEN. The group said he was held blindfolded in a shipping container at an unknown location for 44 days, without being charged.