The Dutch Immigration minister is facing criticism over plans to deport lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender asylum seekers back to Iran.

A ban on deportations was imposed last September after reports of gay executions in Iran, but now the minister, Rita Verdonk, wishes to end the moratorium as she believes there is no clear evidence of execution for being a homosexual in the country.

Ms Verdonk said last month, “For homosexual men and women it is not totally impossible to function in society, although they should be wary of coming out of the closet too openly.”

However, human rights groups claim that sending people back would violate the Netherlands obligation to protect people from ill treatment and possible execution.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) sent a letter to the minister highlighting laws which showed punishments for men who slept with men, the document said, “Article 123 of Iran’s Penal Code further provides that “If two men who are not related by blood lie naked under the same cover without any necessity,” each one will receive ninety-nine lashes. Articles 127 to 134 stipulate that the punishment for sexual intercourse between women is one hundred lashes and if the offence is repeated three times, the punishment is execution.”

“Both sexual orientation and religious belief are deeply felt and central aspects of the human person. No one should be expected to conceal them simply in order to stay alive. Such silencing is not a recourse from persecution: it is itself persecution. It is embarrassing for a high official of the Dutch government to endorse the notion that those who fear to speak out under the threat of death, can still be called free.”

The issue has created controversy in the Netherlands Parliament with the opposition calling for a full debate.