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Homosexuals who cannot live an open life in their own countries without fear of persecution should be entitled to asylum in Britain, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday.
The court, the final arena for appeal in the British legal system, said a previous appeal should not have denied refugee protection to two applicants from Cameroon and Iran and said the cases should be reconsidered.
Both men, who were not named to protect their identity, had been beaten in their own countries but were refused asylum because British authorities felt each man was able to relocate at home and behave with discretion to avoid victimisation.
Iran punishes homosexual acts with either public flogging or execution.
They are also illegal in Cameroon but are punished with jail sentences.
"To compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or to suppress the behaviour by which it manifests itself is to deny him his fundamental right to be who he is," said Deputy President of the Supreme Court, Lord Hope of Craighead.
"Homosexuals are as much entitled to freedom of association with others who are of the same sexual orientation as people who are straight."
The court said a test applied by the lower court to decide whether conditions in other countries were tolerable should be scrapped as it did not follow the spirit of the U.N. refugee convention.
"A huge gulf has opened up in attitudes to and understanding of gay persons between societies on either side of the divide," Lord Hope said. "More and more gays and lesbians are likely to have to seek protection here ... It is crucially important that they are provided with the protection that they are entitled to under the convention." (Reporting by Matt Falloon; editing by David Stamp)
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