A petition has been launched to free two gay Saudi journalists, who have been detained in Australia after seeking asylum in the country.

Brian Greig OAM, spokesperson for national LGBTI equality group just.equal, says the couple have been locked up for several weeks after fleeing Saudi Arabia, which has the death penalty for homosexuality.

Both journalists reportedly fled the oil-rich state after political harassment and threats of being publicly outed. One of the men has been accused of leaking negative stories about the Saudi regime, which he denies.

Speaking to The Guardian, the pair said they fled to Australia seeking safety, only to be persecuted here.

“We ran away from being detained arbitrarily and jailed for no reason, only to arrive in Australia and find ourselves in jail here,” said one of the men.

“We’ve been threatened with it in Saudi but it never actually happened until we came here,” he said, alleging that since being detained in Australia, they have been subject to threats of violence from other detainees and intimidated by guards.

Grieg, who in 2011 was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his gay and lesbian social justice advocacy, said it was not unlawful to seek asylum in Australia and urged authorities to release the men until their claims could be assessed.

“The Morrison Government needs to understand that anti-LGBTI prejudice in some parts of the world is extreme and life threatening,” said Greig, in a statement issued to the Star Observer.

“Corporal and capital punishment still apply in several Islamic nations including Saudi Arabia, Iran and [parts of] Indonesia, and there is growing hostility and violence against LGBTI people in Russia, Georgia, Chechnya, the Ukraine, Poland and several African nations including Nigeria and Uganda, among others.

“Australia must be a safe refuge for people fleeing persecution, including anti-LGBTI hatred and violence.

“This must also include a fair, efficient and unbiased process for dealing with claims of asylum on the basis of sexuality,” he said.

The petition calls on Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs David Coleman to intervene and ”immediately grant bridging visas” to the journalists.

“All they are asking for is that their claims are taken seriously and that the Australian ethos of a ‘fair go’ is applied to them like everyone else,” the petition states.

“Minister Coleman, release these men.”

The ‘Free the Gay Journalists’ petition is located at www.equal.org.au/free_the_gay_journalists.

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