Prisoner of Conscience: Freeing a Gay Refugee

Summary: The refugees that Australia has detained since 2013, caught in boats crossing the South Pacific, have been kept in a state of brutal captivity in offshore detention centres. Their only options are to return to their country (a death sentence in itself) or suicide. While some have been accepted into the US, the ones still remaining have no remaining options. Their only hope is private sponsorship to Canada. 

Who we’re helping
: Payam, a gay/Christian Iranian refugee and Manus detainee
Location: Refugee detainment centre in Port Moresby
Fundraising goal: $25,000 CAD for his private sponsorship to Canada. Any surplus funds will be used to sponsor other LGBT refugees on Manus and Nauru.
His advantages: University education, a strong will.

Introducing Payam

Payam fled Iran to save his life. After being persecuted both for his homosexuality and his Christianity, he made the dangerous journey to Australia by boat when he was arrested and detained in 2013.

Not wishing to reveal his homosexuality, he removed himself from the refugee process. With no status in Papua New Guinea, where he is detained, he lives in fear of being put in the notorious Bomana Prison, where he will be isolated and starved. Last month, 53  sylum seekers like Payam were imprisoned - their phones confiscated, no contact with the UNHCR or the outside world. The prison guards have stated that Payam will be put there by the end of the month. We need to move fast.

His story

Born in the early ‘90s and raised in a Muslim family. Payam was attracted to boys at the age of 13. At the age of 15, he moved in with friend. Payam was attracted to his friend but did not know if it was reciprocated, until one night.

“We kissed and hugged each other. I really enjoyed everything that happened and loved it and but I wasn't sure about him. I was scared to talk with him and shy. But he came to me and we started talking about it.”


They started having problems because their friends and family saw them together, and suspected them. Their home was just 10 minutes from a centre of the Basij, the religious police. Each time the Basij saw them, they asked questions and humiliated them, even beat them a few times. After these problems, at the age of 21, Payam moved back in with his family.

“It was really hard for me to forget Reza.”

His faith

Even still, he was under suspicion by the Basij because of how he looked and dressed. In addition, he started losing his faith. His Western style and tattoo kept him from getting a job, so he was self-employed from 2011 until 2013. He drove a van and did recycling.

His business was going well, and at the same time his interest in Christianity was growing. In 2012, his friend Farzad gave him some Christian pamphlets in a park near his home. Members of the Basij discovered him with the pamphlets, and took him to one of their centres. They beat him and stripped his clothes, and tried to rape him for dressing like a gay man.

“They called me ‘kafir’ because I didn't believe Islam and I liked boys, which is something really bad in Iran.”

Forced to flee

Meanwhile his father harassed him to pray in the Islamic way, ashamed he had changed his faith and was afraid what would happen if people found out about his Christian beliefs.

In the spring of 2013, Payam was in a park with Pariya, a girl his parents encouraged him to date, discussing his plans to leave Iran. A member of the Basij showed up and slapped Pariya, and Payam was taken home, where his mother explained that the two were going to get married, but the Basij official slapped his mother. Payam pushed the man and ran away.

After that, he knew he was in danger, since the man was a high-ranking member of the Basij. He went to his uncle’s home to escape. Meanwhile, the Basij raided his home and found the Bible and Christian pamphlets.

They attacked his family and threatened to take his brothers away. They said if they ever found him, his family would never see him again because he was practicing Christianity. The stress caused his father to have a stroke.

“It's really hard for me to talk and remember all this. I never told anyone this, especially in here.”


Through his father’s money and his brother’s connections, he found a person to help him escape the Iran. In the early summer of 2013, he flew from Iran to Jakarta, Indonesia, staying there for nearly two months, before moving to the Island of Sulawesi for 2 weeks.

He took a dangerous boat journey and arrived on Christmas Island in mid-summer 2013. He was held by Australian authorities on Christmas Island until early 2014, when he was moved to Manus.

He was a long-time resident of Hillside House, having excepted himself from the refugee process. He now lives in Granville Hotel, Port Moresby, and lives in deathly fear of being sent to Bomana Prison, where he will be isolated and starved with the rest of the inmates.

There is hope

A group of private citizens in Toronto – including Stephen Watt, Laura Beth Bugg, Sarah Alam and Casey Schapel – have teamed up to bring Payam to a better life.  Before we can submit an application, we need to confirm to the Canadian government that we have funds placed in a secure account to support his first 12 months of life in Canada.

Your donation will contribute to Payam's living expenses for the first year, including:

    + 12 months of income
    + housing
    + food staples
    + startup costs
    + household needs
    + furniture
    + clothing

Every dollar we raise (minus any fees collected by GoFundMe) will be held in trust and go directly towards Nasir's support. When he arrives in Canada, the funds will be disbursed to him immediately, as per the guidelines established by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. If Payam is unable to come to Canada or his application cancelled for any reason, your donation will be directed towards the sponsorship of another LGBT+ Manus or Nauru refugee.

The opportunity

“Even a day is a lot for me. I don't have any future as u know. My story is real but the time that I didn't give my case to PNG it was because that I can't tell anyone and live here. I can't trust anyone to tell my story and get protection. If Canada accepts me then I can pass the time much better. I have been for so long and it's really hard now with everything you know. My future is in your hands.”

Payam is a hard working and resourceful, a sensitive young man who would make a wonderful and talented addition to this country. We are building the team of sponsors to bring Payam to Canada. If you would like to join, please contact Stephen Watt by email or Facebook .

Thank you for your support. And help spread the word by sharing this post!

Donations (80)

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  • Stefan Barton-Ross
    • $400 
    • 4 yrs
  • Adam Stone
    • $245 
    • 4 yrs
  • Katrina McDonnell
    • $50 
    • 4 yrs
  • Anonymous
    • $20 
    • 4 yrs
  • Fiona Leahy
    • $1,000 
    • 4 yrs
See all


Stephen Watt
Toronto, ON

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