Page last updated at 16:13 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Turkey considers fate of detained Iran Raelian leader

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Istanbul

Raelian founder Claude Vorilhon (known as Rael) with model of spaceship - file photo
Raelians believe humans were created by extra-terrestrials

The Turkish authorities say they are discussing what to do with an Iranian atheist who says she fled persecution in Iran.

Negar Azizmoradi, who is the leader of the Raelian movement in Iran, was arrested after she arrived in Turkey last week.

Supporters say she faces the death penalty for her beliefs if she returns.

Turkey gives only limited recognition to refugees, and has in the past sent back Iranian asylum-seekers.

With their libertarian attitude to sex, and their belief that humans were created by extra-terrestrials, Raelians inevitably fall foul of the religious authorities in Iran.

The crime of apostasy - rejecting religious faith - carries the death penalty there, and supporters of Negar Azizmoradi say that is what will happen to her if the Turkish government sends her back to Iran.

She is being detained in Istanbul for not carrying a proper passport when she arrived in Turkey last week.

The authorities are now discussing her fate. Large numbers of Iranians cross the border into Turkey, many in search of work, but some also fleeing political or religious persecution.

Turkey does not normally recognise asylum seekers from neighbouring countries - thousands are kept in detention centres, pending possible re-settlement in third countries - most are trying to reach the European Union.

Some, including Iranians, have been forced back over the border.

The Raelian movement is now campaigning to prevent that happening to its one-time leader in Iran.

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