Iranian poet Payam Feili hopes to seek asylum in Israel soon. After facing discrimination, harassment and arrest for being openly gay in Iran, Feili was forced to flee the country. He explained to the PEN American Center, a writers group aimed at supporting freedom of expression, how he was taken from his home and held for 44 days without being charged. Feili then lived in Turkey for two years and now seeks asylum in Israel.
In December 2015, Feili traveled to Tel Aviv, where his novel “I Will Grow, I Will Bear Fruit … Figs,” which depicts the love story between two soldiers in the Iran-Iraq war, was produced as a play. The poet received a three-month visa to be in the country and told the Washington Post that after his three months in Tel Aviv, he feels “more than love” for Israel and wants to live there.
Feili was drawn to Tel Aviv’s openness towards the gay community and he recently began the long and complex process for full time residence in Israel. According to the Times of Israel, Feili told reporters early this week that his visa was extended until October.
Tel Aviv is home to a welcoming LGBTQ community and the largest annual pride parade in the Middle East. However, Feili’s fascination with Israel is nothing new. He told the Associated press that he watched films about the Holocaust when he was a child and has a Star of David tattooed on his neck.
“All the stupid and ridiculous threats the regime issues against Israel have never influenced me and will never influence me,” he said, speaking through a translator in Farsi to the AP.
While it remains illegal for citizens of Iran and Israel to visit one another, his attorney Hagai Kalai said that Feili is hopeful Israel will accept his request to remain in the country, since his situation is so uncommon. But Feili might find himself waiting a while since gay Palestinians with the same desire to live in Tel Aviv’s welcoming community have often had to wait several years to have their cases heard.
Feili published nine books openly addressing him being gay and so cannot return to Iran where he would be putting himself and his family in danger. In the Islamic Republic, homosexuality is considered a crime punishable by death. He was blacklisted for his openness on his homosexuality and is barred from publishing in Iran.
Ido Dagan, Feili’s friend and producer of “I Will Grow, I Will Bear Fruit… Figs” told the AP that Feili’s Israeli friends already gave him the nickname “Queen of Israel,” a reference from his most recent book.
“I am not going to stop living my life or changing something about my life because the regime threatens me or my family,” he said to the AP, adding “Even when I lived in Iran under an execution order, I continued living my life as I wanted to and nothing will affect that.”