The Home Office does not think that Iranian asylum seekers who identify as gay or lesbian should automatically be assumed to be at risk if they are returned, according to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

In a letter to Lord Roberts of Llandudno she said that there are “cases where people able to demonstrate a need for international protection” but that there is not enough evidence to support a moratorium on deportations to Iran.

The letter, published in The Independent, is bound to cause anger among gay groups who claim that as many as 4,000 gay and lesbian people have been executed in the country since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

“We do not … accept that we should make the presumption that each and every asylum-seeker who presents themselves as being of a particular nationality or sexuality, regardless of their particular circumstances, should automatically be … allowed to remain in the UK,” she wrote.

“With particular regard to Iran, current case law handed down by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal concludes that the evidence does not show a real risk of discovery of, or adverse action against gay and lesbian people who are discreet about their sexual orientation.”

Omar Kuddus, an activist who campaigns for gay and lesbian asylum seekers, told PinkNews.co.uk:

“Homosexuality is not accepted (in Iran) and the state kills and punishes those guilty of being gay.

“To say that homosexuals are safe as long as they are discreet and live their lives in private, is to say that Anne Frank was safe from the Nazis in World War Two as long as she hid in her attic, there is no difference.

“Homosexuality shall never be acceptable in Iran as long as the Ayatollahs and Sharia law is in place.”

In March the government was accused of being more inclined to believe Iran than human rights groups on the issue of how gay people are treated in that country.

The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association spoke out after a Home Office minister in the Lords said:

“We are not aware of any individual who has been executed in Iran in recent years solely on the grounds of homosexuality, and we do not consider that there is systematic persecution of gay men in Iran.”

In 2005 Iran sparked international outrage when it publicly executed two teenage boys.

Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were hanged because according to the regime they were rapists, however gay campaigners insist the boys were killed under Sharia law for the crime of homosexuality.

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell claimed that a year-long investigation into this case revealed that the regime’s allegations against the two hanged youths, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, were riddled with contradictions, implausibilities and outright lies.

At first it was claimed by Iranian officials that they were aged 18 and 19.

The best evidence is that both youths were aged 17 when they were executed and therefore minors, aged 15 or 16, at the time of their alleged crimes.

“The execution of Mahmoud and Ayaz conforms to a pattern of state torture and murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people by the Iranian clerical regime,” said Mr Tatchell.

20 year old Makwan Mouloudzadeh was executed in December 2007 for a homosexual offence allegedly committed when he was 13.

“It is worth repeating that we have concerns about the treatment of gays within Iran,” Lord West, a former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, told the House of Lords in March.

“However, in the one case that we looked into, because it was shown on television (Mahmoud and Ayaz), we found that two young males were hanged because they were found guilty of raping a 13 year-old boy.

“They were hanged for the offence of rape.

“We have no evidence of anyone we have sent back being executed, and we would never send someone back who we felt was in danger of being executed.

“That is our position with any country in the world; we just do not do that.”

Earlier this year MPs, MEPs and more than 60 peers successfully petitioned the Home Secretary to reconsider the case of Mehdi Kazemi, a gay teenager from Iran claiming asylum in the UK.

Mr Kazemi, now 20, was studying in England and applied for asylum after his boyfriend was arrested and reportedly executed in Tehran.

The boyfriend named Mehdi as a homosexual, and police turned up at his father’s house with a warrant to arrest him.

His asylum application was unsuccessful in the UK, so Mehdi fled to Holland. The Dutch authorities ruled he should be returned to the UK.

The Home Secretary was widely praised when Mehdi was given leave to remain.