The 47-year-old gay rights advocate and award-winner came to Britain from Nigeria in 2004, seeking asylum on religious grounds.
Coming from a Christian family, she married a Muslim man in what she says was a sham arrangement to cover up her long-term relationship with a woman.
Apata claims her husband’s family turned against her when they suspected she was gay, and took her to a sharia court, where she was sentenced to death for adultery. Her brother and three-year-old son, she says, were killed by mobs.
She ran away, lived on the streets in Manchester, and now her case has come to the Royal Courts of Justice for a final decision. Will she be given asylum, or will she be sent back to Nigeria where she could face certain death?
Protestors from around the world gathered in London to rally at the hearing on March 3rd. Just one petition calling for Apata’s safety has over 230,000 signatures.
“In many places around Africa, LGBT people are being persecuted for their sexual orientation, suffering corrective rape, their lives being threatened,” Rose Bear, originally from Angola and South Africa, was reported as saying. “I’m here today in support of LGBT from Africa who are seeking asylum to escape threats to their lives. It’s right that countries who can afford should give them asylum so that they can continue their lives peacefully.”
In the recent weeks, stories have emerged from UK detention centers such as Yarl’s Wood wherein violence, sexual harassment and bullying occur against LGBTI asylum seekers.
Charlotte Kristensen, from Denmark, said: “It’s beyond terrifying. Just to think that these people have gone through so much, being so close to being safe. To come onto English soil and become terrorised, tortured and abused by a country that’s an asylum. It’s a shame, I am actually ashamed to be English sometimes.”
Prosecutors have accused Apata of the following:
‘She looked ‘feminine’ in Africa, with longer hair, and her ‘stereotyped lesbian appearance was adopted after the initial decline of asylum in the UK’.
‘Her gay rights activism started after she was first refused grant of asylum.
‘The people who signed a petition were ‘duped’ and have given ‘layers and layers of lies and inconsistencies’.
‘Apata had male relationships and cannot contact last three lesbian relationships but formed false sexual ones in detainment.
‘A sexual identity cannot ‘change’ as much as race cannot – thus her identity as a heterosexual on her first asylum application must be taken into account.
‘She is a ‘clever woman’ who has used the media to gain support and pressure the Home Office.
‘If she went back to Nigeria, she wouldn’t have the stress of this court case and wouldn’t have the mental health issues to deal with. She would not have attempted suicide if not put through this stress.
‘Her LGBT activism was a last ditch attempt to remain in the UK.’
The judge questioned many of the points made, arguing sexuality can be fluid and that some people ‘discover’ themselves. He also mentioned that even if she is not a lesbian, her public support and name recognition will certainly put her at risk in Nigeria.
Apata’s attorney then put the following to the court:
‘This is a fresh case, and that she has done everything she can to prove that she is indeed a lesbian, including showing that she is ready to debase herself to provide ‘evidence’ of a sexual nature.
‘She is at risk of imprisonment with her involvement of LGBT activism in Nigeria.
‘Her suicide attempt whilst in prison was genuine, and was only in prison for being a figurehead in a detainee center, protesting her rights.
‘Under immigration laws, conventional rights and asylum laws, she should be granted asylum as she is at risk when back in Nigeria.’
It was clear the judge struggled to make a decision, saying he thanked the members of the public that were sitting in on the hearing for their patience as he knew it was a highly emotional case and means a great deal to many people.