Asylum seeker loses appeal against fake passport conviction
An Iranian woman who claimed she fled to Northern Ireland in a bid to convert to Christianity has lost her challenge to being convicted of having a false identity document.
Her lawyers argued there was no evidence she possessed the undamaged, fake passport before it was found cut up at Belfast City Airport.
But rejecting her case, the Court of Appeal declared the guilty verdict safe.
The woman, granted anonymity amid fears she may face persecution, received a four-month sentence after being convicted by a jury in Belfast last year.
She had arrived with two other Iranian nationals on a flight from Amsterdam in September 2016, claiming they were refugees and seeking asylum. Pieces of an Israeli passport were found in her handbag.
She alleged that she was seeking to convert from Islam to Christianity and feared for her safety from the Iranian authorities.
At trial she stated that any deviation from her native country's strict religious laws can lead to imprisonment or death.
About a month before she arrived in Belfast she was informed her life was in danger and so had to escape, it was claimed.
The woman allegedly paid an agent 60 million Iranian toman (£42,700) to facilitate her departure.
The court was told she was taken by bus from Tehran to Turkey, where she waited three weeks in Istanbul.
She claimed the agent provided fake Iranian and Israeli passports for travel to Holland and then on to Northern Ireland. At Amsterdam Airport the agent allegedly took the Iranian document from her before she was told to get the flight to Belfast.
Denying she had been dishonest or deceptive, the woman insisted she was a refugee seeking safe harbour.
Her sentence now completed, it is understood she is currently still in the UK.
Lord Justice Treacy said: "The fact that the document had been (deliberately) damaged did not in the circumstances of this case render it incapable as a matter of law of being an identity document and that the appellant possessed the document as alleged in the indictment."
He added: "We have not been persuaded that the verdict is unsafe on any of the grounds advanced."