19 “Mohammed” was first exposed to Christianity through one of his guitar students in Iran, and soon began to attend bible study classes—a secret first step on a compelling but treacherous spiritual journey. In Iran, turning away from Shia Islam, the state religion, is serious business. While minority faiths aren’t officially outlawed, Muslims who convert to other religions are persecuted and may be sentenced to death. Aware of these dangers, Mohammed left for Italy to pursue additional studies. Thinking he could practice Christianity freely there, he even attended mass. It wasn’t until he’d completed his first year of studies and returned to Iran that he realized he’d been reported, probably by an Iranian he’d met in Italy. When Mohammed tried to renew his teaching certificate and file forms to go back to Italy, he was referred to the police. Soon officers were tracking him down at home and interrupting his lessons to question him. To avoid more trouble, Mohammed left for Europe, and from there obtained a US visa. After arriving in Boston in April of 2012, Mohammed attended a Christian church, but also took advantage of his freedom to explore other beliefs. When he discovered the Baha’i faith—which seemed to combine the best elements of Christianity and Islam—he felt he’d found a spiritual home, and decided to convert. Unfortunately Baha’is also face discrimination, perse- cution, and even execution in Iran. Fearing for his safety if he went back, Mohammed decided to seek asylum. A friend connected him to the Political Asylum/ Immigration Representa- tion (PAIR) Project, and PAIR referred him to attorney Jacque Burke, who filed Mohammed’s initial paperwork and worked with him on developing his asylum submission. Later attorney Sarah Kommineni also worked on Mohammed’s case. Meeting with him every month for a few years, she helped him with his written statement, a lengthy declaration that would back up his asylum claims; gathered affidavits from the Baha’i community confirming that Mohammed was an active member; drafted a separate legal memo; and completed a country conditions report on Iran. Prior to Mohammed’s asylum interviews with the Immigration service, Sarah spent many late nights at the office gathering information. She also conducted mock interviews with Mohammed to help him prepare. It was imperative to ensure that her client, generally soft-spoken, could communicate his beliefs effectively. At both the mock and official interviews, former Mintz Levin project analyst Parnia Zahedi, whom Mohammed trusted implicitly, was on hand to translate his responses. Opening the Gates of Freedom “Asylum applicants with counsel are five times more likely to be granted asylum than unrepresented applicants.Without Sarah’s very capable representation, our client—given the challenges posed by his case—would most likely now be back in Iran,where his life would be in peril.” Seth Purcell Staff Attorney Political Asylum/ Immigration Representation (PAIR) Project (continued)