( dpa ) - An Iranian asylum seeker who says he has converted to Christianity and will be persecuted if he goes back to his homeland has been refused refugee status in New Zealand, according to a news report on Tuesday.
Ali Reza Panah, who went on a hunger strike in Auckland's Mount Eden prison, where he has been held for 20 months for refusing to sign travel papers he needs before he can be deported, asked for a decision on his status to be deferred until the Iranian government decides whether to impose the death penalty on its citizens who convert from Islam.
But Panah's lawyer, Grant Illingworth, told Radio New Zealand the Immigration Service had turned down his application to be allowed to stay.
Illingworth said he will now take the case to the refugee status appeal authority.
Panah is one of a group of Iranian asylum seekers awaiting deportation because they will not sign the papers they need to obtain passports before they can be deported.
The Court of Appeal is currently considering the case of Thomas Yadegary, who claims he had converted to be a Roman Catholic before he was arrested in November 2004 after his final appeal to stay in New Zealand was turned down.
Immigration officials say that Iran is the only country which requires its nationals to sign travel documents before they could be sent home.