updated 10/18/2006 6:11:57 AM ET 2006-10-18T10:11:57

The Dutch government has granted special asylum rights to Iranian homosexuals, despite earlier comments by Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk who said they were safe so long as they were discrete.

Verdonk, whose tough stance on immigration and asylum has been condemned by many on the left, based her decision on an unpublished report by Human Rights Watch, which refers to systematic abuse of homosexuals in Iran, her ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

She also decided to extend a moratorium for Iranian Christian asylum seekers to remain in the Netherlands until May 2007 from this month.

“Homosexual Iranian asylum seekers can now find a safe haven in the Netherlands from the persecution and inhuman treatment they face in Iran,” Frank van Dalen, chairman of gay rights group COC Nederland, said.

“A year ago, an Iranian asylum seeker with a death sentence hanging over his head was still sitting at Schiphol airport waiting to be deported,” he added.

Earlier this year, a group of Iranian gay asylum seekers, who were due to be deported from the Netherlands after a government report concluded their sexuality did not put them at risk, became the focus of a bitter debate amid reports Iran may have executed men last year for being homosexual.

The government bowed to pressure in April and agreed to delay any deportations until it had reviewed the situation.

Islam’s position on homosexuality became a major discussion point in the Netherlands when anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn, himself openly gay, accused Islam of being homophobic. Fortuyn was murdered by an animal rights activist in 2002.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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