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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Jan. 21) – A 34-year-old man who claims to be from Fiji has managed to avoid deportation from France, arguing that if he returned to Fiji, he would face recriminations because of his homosexuality.

Samson Verma, who describes himself as a writer from Fiji, was arrested on Thursday last week in the French Southeastern town of Chamonix, near the Italian border.

Police there found he had no residence permit, although he had been living in France since 1998.

According to French laws, the next step in the procedure isto deport him and in the meantime, keep him in custody. But Verma challenged the order, on the grounds of his right to asylum.

He also alleged that, back in Fiji, there is a "homophobic" atmosphere.

"The Constitution in Fiji has been changed several times to accommodate the rights of the homosexuals as equal to all other rights. But it was revoked after the last coup in Fiji. And with this came a significant and strong increase of homophobia in the country, which is also linked to fundamentalist and nationalist movements in Fiji", Verma told RFO Television.

He told a French administrative tribunal in Lyon earlier this week that he did not want to go back to Fiji because, he said, the homosexual community was subjected to increasing abuse.

He also told the court that because of his homosexuality, he could face a prison sentence of up to 15 years and that he could be "bashed."

Verma, who says he lives in Montreuil (near Paris) with his partner, an Italian citizen, defended himself before the French court, saying he had, for the past seven years, always entertained good relations with his neighbors.

The Court decided to rule in favor of the accused, and declare the deportation order null and void.

Verma's lawyer, Myriam Matari, said she was pleased with the outcome and that obviously, her client would take every step to get in touch with French authorities in order to regularize his situation.

Verma had managed to gain support from several French politicians, including deputy mayor of Paris, Christophe Girard.

Girard last Sunday, speaking to journalists, had called a press conference, asking for public support to Verma's case, on the basis "homosexuals in Fiji are discriminated against and beaten up."

Other French politicians, including Fodé Sylla, a former European MP and former President of anti-racism NGO "SOS Racisme," had also rallied the cause and even set up a committee in support of Verma.

The matter went as far as the French Home Affairs ministry, which is also in charge of immigration matters.

Meanwhile, in Fiji's main island of Viti Levu, a four-day "Sugar Festival" is beginning on Friday in the Western, town of Lautoka.

The festival will feature an appeal for donations for the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, a Miss Fiji pageant, but also, for the first time, "one of Fiji's biggest-ever gay pageants for a worthy cause", local media report.

Gay contestants from Fiji's main towns of Suva, Lautoka and Nadi have flocked to enter the competition.

Event organiser Bijesh Chand said this was the first contest of its kind in Fiji and that he was confident in a large public support, in spite of critics voiced by the Assemblies of God Church which said that "such gay festivals should not be encouraged because they promoted an inappropriate lifestyle".

January 25, 2005

Oceania Flash: http://newspad-pacific.info/ 

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