Ellie Aben and Baker Atyani
MANILA/AMMAN: An Iranian beauty queen is seeking asylum in the Philippines because she fears for her life in Tehran.
Bahareh Zare Bahari, who was Iran’s entry at the Miss Intercontinental pageant in 2018, is in the custody of the Philippines’ Bureau of Immigration after she was intercepted at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport last week.
The bureau said she was barred from entering the Philippines because of an Interpol red notice due to an assault and battery case filed against her by a fellow Iranian. The incident is alleged to have happened in the Philippines.
Bahari denies any wrongdoing, saying the case against her was fake. She added that Tehran was targeting her for supporting an opposition politician, violating traditional values by taking part in beauty pageants and speaking for women’s rights.
In January she appeared at a pageant carrying a picture of Reza Pahlavi, an Iranian opposition leader and founder of the National Council of Iran.
“I used his photo in a beauty pageant and they are angry with me,” Bahari told Arab News during a phone interview. “If they (Philippines) deport me, they (Iran) will give me at least 25 years in jail, if they do not kill me.”
Bahari said she had travelled to the Philippines after a two-week vacation to Dubai, where she did not encounter any problems with immigration authorities. She was surprised when she was intercepted at the airport in Manila and informed that she was on an Interpol list.
Her lawyer had checked all records in the Philippines and with Interpol but there was no record against her, she added.
The beauty queen denied committing any crimes in Iran, or in the Philippines where she has been studying dentistry since 2014.
Media reports said Bahari was due to be deported to Iran on Monday but a Department of Justice official, Mark Perete, said she remained in the bureau’s custody and “could not be sent back to Iran because she has filed an application for asylum.”
The department would resolve her asylum application “in due time,” he added.