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Hundreds protest over sheikh’s deportation

Religious and community leaders have rallied behind an Iranian Muslim sheikh who is due to be deported from Australia in a fortnight.

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More than 1,000 people gathered outside Parliament House in Canberra to call on the government to reconsider its decision to deport Sheikh Mansour Leghaei.

Sheikh Leghaei has lived in Australia for the past 16 years but was denied a permanent visa after being declared a security threat some years ago by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, ASIO.

The United Nations has asked the federal government to delay his deportation, but the government has declined, although it has issued permanent visas for his wife and three children.

And, the Immigration Minister Senator Chris Evans has also declined to intervene on Sheikh Leghaei’s behalf.

The Sheikh’s Lawyer Rob Saul says the group has tried to deliver a letter to the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd asking him to help.

But, Mr Saul says the Prime Minister won’t accept the letter.

“Obviously it’s a concern if the Prime Minister is so arrogant that he won’t even except a letter from a decent Australian whose family life is about to be torn apart”.

“He meets with miners to negotiate how much tax they pay. He meets with people in the insulation scheme. But he’s not willing to meet with a person whose family life is about to be torn apart based on secret evidence which no-one’s seen,” he told SBS.

Two weeks ago the Migration Review Tribunal denied Sheikh Leghaei a visa after ruling it lacked the authority to examine or overrule ASIO’s assessment.

ASIO is not obliged to reveal to the Sheikh’s lawyers what evidence its assessment is based on.

His supporters from an inter-faith religious council are furious that ASIO has refused to re-consider the assessment.

Reverend David Smith from Sydney’s Holy Trinity Anglican Church believes authorities know Sheikh Leghaei is not a serious threat.

Reverend Smith says the Sheikh is the victim of an organised campaign by anti-Iranian activists.

“They’ve made various allegations about Sheikh, about his family as I say. About his sister who supposedly informs on immodestly dressed women in Tehran with a walkie talkie under her veil and it turns out Sheikh doesn’t have a sister,” he told SBS.

“That he used to go round prisons, not only in Iran, but in Turkey and involved in torturing people, of course he’s never been to Turkey”.

Father Gwilym Henry-Edwards from St Luke’s Anglican Church in Sydney says Australia helped to achieve a key human rights document at the United Nations in 1948.

He says the way Sheikh Leghaei is being treated shows the nation has now turned its back on that achievement.

“In the preparation of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights has now ignored what it did back in those days, because Australia was a small country and it really pushed hard for universal justice and now it seems that it’s a different matter, a different world”.

Sheikh Leghaei has always denied being a spy for the Iranian government or spreading a pro-Iranian political message.

He has challenged ASIO’s adverse security assessments in the Federal and High Courts but failed.

He added he’s unclear why ASIO considers him a threat to national security now.

Sheikh Leghaei says the decision to deport him will tear his family in two.

“My older sons, my twins have decided they will stay here. They are living independently and they are married. Even though my wife and I and my daughter if we leave naturally it breaks up the family.

Supporters of Sheikh Leghaei say that when he set up the Imam Hussain Islamic Centre in Sydney in 1997, he received the blessing of the then federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock.

They say at the same time, the Sheikh was described as an asset to Australia by the current Attorney General Robert McClelland, then in opposition.

Mr McClelland is now responsible for ASIO.

The Sheikh’s Lawyer Rob Saul says he’s been told he will be sent back to Iran on June the 26th.