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Bahareh Zare Bahari

Bahareh Zare BahariIranian Beauty Queen turned asylum seeker, Bahareh Zare Bahari, a staunch activist born in Mashhad, Iran proudly wore the old Iranian flag on her shirt and says that Iranians get arrested and detained if this shirt is worn publicly.

At the 2018 Miss Intercontinental beauty contest in Manila she made headlines by waving a poster of Reza Pahlavi, the Iranian former crown prince and prominent critic of the current leadership.

She has also spoken about the lack of Iranian women’s rights and criticised Islamic law - on which Iran’s legal system is based. “When I got out of Iran I started to be a voice of my people, especially women,” she said.

“I always think: "How can I make my voice louder? So I decided to participate in a beauty pageant. I thought it’d be a good chance to talk about politics and make a statement about both human and womens right abuses by the current Iranian regime..

Her name then became included on the Interpol red list for assault charges and she was barred from re-entering Philippines after attending the pagaent - even though she had always been issued a valid Student Visa during her more than 4 years of studying Dentistry in the Philippines.

The former Iranian beauty queen has spoken of the toll on her mental health as she entered her fourth week of being stranded in Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the the Philippines airport, due to fears that she will be deported to Tehran and executed for criticising the Iranian regime if her asylum petition were to fail.

“I’m not in good condition,” Bahareh Zare Bahari, 31, told reporters at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport. “My hair has started falling out, and is in bad condition because of the stress. Sometimes I mentally become too sick from having no privacy because there’s no door for the room, so I’m always worried when I want to change my clothes.”

Bahareh Zare Bahari“All the walls here are white, the bed is white, everything is white - there is always lights on here. When I check my phone I can’t understand if it’s 7am or 7pm. I’m losing time and sometimes I feel as though I’m losing my mind.”

Bahari said she has been confined to a passenger courtesy room in Terminal 3 of Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport since she arrived from Dubai. "I'm really mentally sick," she said, adding that the uncertainty over her case is wearing her down.

Bahari was detained on the 17th of October 2019 after Iranian authorities put out a red notice about her to Interpol. The notice reportedly claims an alleged offence was committed in Iran by Bahari – and Tehran was seeking to extradite her. She says it is a false claim lodged with Interpol to punish her for her activism and politics.

She also believes she may be targeted because of her social activism back in Iran. Bahari said that she became a teacher there because she wanted girls to learn "they are not things, they are not toys, they are human and they have same right as boys."

In October it was reported that Interpol’s notice about Bahari related to an alleged assault on an Iranian national in the Philippines, where she had been studying dentistry and competing in beauty contests.

However she said Philippine officials told her the charge was in fact related to an unspecified crime that took place in Tehran some time since the start of 2018 - a her home country which she had not set foot in for several years.

Bahareh Zare BahariIn its statement, Philippines immigration authorities said Bahari was also accused of assault and battery in the Philippines city of Dagupan. The statement did not say whether this was the reason a red notice had been issued, or if the complaint originated in Iran.

Not all red notices are made publicly available due to the confidential nature of international criminal investigations. Interpol's press office said the agency does not comment on specific cases or individuals "except in special circumstances and with the approval of the member country concerned."

Asked about the assault allegations, Bahari said they were "a big lie" and designed to force her back to Iran. She said there were no pending cases against her in the Philippines.

Human Rights Watch deputy director Phil Robertson said in a statement that "there have been repeated incidents where rights repressing states in the Middle East have abused the (Interpol) process to try to force the return of dissidents overseas."

He said the organization was concerned about the "mysterious" red notice, "especially since under Interpol rules a red notice is null and void if the person named in the notice is found to be a refugee fleeing from the state that issued it."

"I have been living here in the Philippines since 2014 and I've not gone back to Iran. I explained to them many times, how can I have a criminal case in Iran when I've been living here?" she told CNN by phone.

Bahareh Zare Bahari was born in Mashhad, Iran. She finished her studies in Iran in Persian history and literature. In 2014 she left Iran to study to become a Doctor of Dental Medicine in Manilla.

She also began working as a model and an actor. She also joined a beauty pageant at her university and won first place, Next she continued with an international beauty pageant and joined the Miss Globe 2018 and won Miss International. She then went on to particpate in Miss Intercontinental.

Bahareh Zare BahariBahari said she had not been to Iran since 2014 and that Iranian authorities had made a “fake case” to try to silence her for being a vocal opponent of the regime.

“The real reason Tehran is seeking to extradite me is that the regime is against political activists and is anti-women. They are trying to silence me, to scare other women in Iran to become quiet. The women of Iran are tired of this regime that doesn’t give basic freedom. When they go out on the street sharia morality police stop them and bring them to the police station: ‘Why do you wear clothes like that?’ - It’s like we’re in prison.”

Bahari said that seeking asylum in the Philippines, a move she made in the airport when she returned to the country from Dubai, was an emergency measure to prevent her being forced onto a plane to Tehran.

Claiming Tehran wanted to punish her for opposition to Iran's theocratic regime, Bahari then sought refugee status, while holed up in a room at Manila's international airport and used social media to rally support from the international community - including a direct plea to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

“I don’t need any government to spend money on me, I can stand on my own feet. I just need a safe place to continue my life.”

The Philippine justice department recognised Bahari as a refugee on the 6th of November, but released the document only weeks later.

The justice department ordered her to report to the Bureau of Immigration so she could be issued a visa and registration certificate. “If the refugee has no passport or valid passport, visa stamping is not required,” the document said.

The document also recommends that a travel document be issued and work permit requirements be waived if Bahari wishes to work in the Philippines.

Bahareh Zare BahariBahari's counsels from Martelino Bacungan & Associates said their client had sought temporary shelter at a local hotel.

In a "notice of recognition" order dated November 6, the Department of Justice (DOJ) informed Bahari that she is "recognized as a refugee under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol".

Under the terms of the notice, Bahari is entitled to the issuance and stamping of 47(b) visa on the passport, the issuance of an alien certification of registration (ACR)-I card free from payment of alien registration and immigration fees.

"If you intend to work, this Office can provide you a certification for exemption on Alien Work Permit from the Department of Labor and Employment," the notice said.

The notice was signed by Senior State Counsel Rosario Elena A. Laborte-Cuevas of the DoJ's Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit (RSPPU).

Bahareh Zare Bahari still fears she would be jailed or executed in Iran on politically motivated charges. On Saturday, Bahari was reportedly still in the airport, citing fears for her safety if she left.

The decision to grant her asylum comes after Bahari revealed the toll her detention had had on her mental health.

When she was first denied entry she was taken to a room where officials explained there was issue with her visa. After a brief wait, she was told she had to return to Iran. She said she then called a nearby friend for help. Bahari said at that time airport authorities then tried to convince her to take a flight back to Iran.

Bahareh Zare BahariInstead she sat on the floor and told them she wasn't going anywhere because she feared they would force her to get up, so she started shouting. About 10 minutes later, her friend came in and tried to convince airport authorities that she would be jailed or killed if they returned her to Iran.

"Then her friend began crying and shouting", Bahari said, before he was arrested. The Bureau of Immigration said the friend was "unruly" and breached airport security in order to "fetch his compatriot."

"Foreign nationals should respect our laws when they are in our country. Improper behavior and derogatory remarks gave the officer further reason to deny Bahari's entry," Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said in a statement.

Authorities accused both of "causing a scene," saying they had to be forced apart by airport authorities.

"She will be getting out of the airport and coming into Philippine territory," Perete said, but declined to discuss the grounds on which she was granted asylum citing confidentiality rules in the United Nations refugee convention.

Ahead of the asylum decision, rights group Amnesty International had urged the Philippines authorities not to deport Bahari, describing her as "a vocal critic of the Iranian authorities and a public opponent of forced veiling".

"If the Philippines authorities send her to Iran she risks arrest, torture and other ill-treatment, and unfair trial and imprisonment," Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty's regional director for East and Southeast Asia said in a statement on Thursday.

Bahareh Zare BahariBahari's Facebook page features a photo posted in August showing her wearing a dress resembling the Iranian flag used by the Shah of Iran's regime, which was toppled in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In the photo, she is seen holding a spear with what appeared to be a photo of Reza Pahlavi, the toppled king's son.

"My wish is that my country will reach freedom and equality," Zare Bahari said in her candidate profile at the Miss Intercontinental pageant website. Adding that she had been speaking out on social media to show the people of Iran "life without war, with freedom and peace and love".

"If Philippines decides to give me asylum I have this request for them. Please give me some sort of special guard and a safe place to stay. It is not possible to just give me an ID card and say go to your home without security - my situation is no longer like before Oct 17.

Because there are a lot if killers here in the Philippines which anyone can order to finish off another - and the regime in Iran will do just that for sure. I hope they understand this and I really appreciate their open minds."

The 31 year old dentistry student with two semesters left before graduating was also trained in the martial arts. "Because of Iran society too many limits are placed on women so I decided to leave Iran and start a new life."

"When i was a teenager i started martial arts and it still continues. Sports always gave me positive energy and peace and my first involvement was in kung-fu Toa - an Iranian kungfu style."

"After 2 years I started Japanese Jujitsu until I managed to get a black belt in Jujitsu, but in the Philippines I became interested in boxing and kickboxing and I started learning about these disciplines."

Bahareh Zare Bahari"As long as I can remember I was a belly dancer as dance had always motivated me. Whether sad or happy when I dance I feel I am flying."

"Time has always been valuable for me, so I’ve never had a summer without learning art or somethings new - like at the age of 12 When I went to hair style class and was able to get a diploma and work for a year."

"I went to sewing classes when I was 14 and when 16 learned painting and here in Philippines in the summer I spent the signing period and I managed to get my certificate from Apo Academy."

"Learning new languages and meeting new people with different cultures has been very valuable to me and opened up new doors in this new world."

"I wish to continue to help this world reach towards global peace so I think I need to use my voice to help the people that don’t have a voice. I always try to pay attention to the symbols in the Iranian motto that is: Good thoughts, Good words, Good deeds."

" I speak Persian, Arabic and English and enjoy kickboxing, reading, cooking, travelling, watching political news and having a role in civil and cultural activism."

Follow her on Instagram



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