A Home Office minister has defended his boss against accusations that she does not understand the dangers faced by gay people in Iran.

The controversy started on Monday when a letter Home Secretary Jacqui Smith had written to a Lib Dem peer was published in The Independent newspaper.

On the subject of people from Iran seeking asylum in the UK on the grounds of their sexual orientation, she wrote:

“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.”

When asked to clarify her remarks today, Home Office minister Vernon Coaker, who was attending the launch of new Stonewall research into homophobic hate crime, told PinkNews.co.uk that rather than expressing her own opinion:

“She was quoting an asylum and immigration tribunal.

“She accepts that gay and lesbian individuals may need protection.”

He said that the Home Secretary has written to The Independent to clarify the matter.

Earlier this year, after a campaign by that paper along with MPs, MEPs, gay rights groups and members of the House of Lords, Jacqui Smith granted asylum to a young Iranian man.

Mehdi Kazemi, 20, left Iran in 2004 to travel to England on a student visa and continue his education.

Two years later while still in the UK he learned that Iranian authorities had arrested his boyfriend Parham back in Iran, who had been forced to name Mr Kazemi as someone with whom he had had a relationship.

Mr Kazemi’s father then received a visit from the Tehran police, with an arrest warrant for his son.

In late April 2006, Medhi’s uncle told him Parham had been put to death.

Mr Kazemi’s request for asylum was turned down by the United Kingdom.

After fearing for his life he fled to Netherlands and sought asylum there. The Dutch authorities returned him to the UK.

He was finally granted asylum but there are other gay people facing deportation back to Iran.

Since Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, human rights groups claim that between 3,000 and 4,000 people have been executed under Sharia law for the crime of homosexuality.

The British government has been 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 UK Gay and Lesbian Immigration Group, which works with gay and lesbian asylum seekers, told PinkNews.co.uk that it is helping 35 people from Iran at present.