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Publicity surrounding an Iranian asylum seeker's 53-day prison fast was a major factor in the decision to allow him to stay in New Zealand today, his lawyer said.

Ali Panah was granted refugee status following a third hearing by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority.

Mr Panah has said he would have faced persecution and possibly the death penalty in Iran as a Muslim who had converted to Christianity.

He was released on bail in September 2007 after a 53-day hunger strike at Auckland remand prison.

Mr Panah sought asylum when he arrived in New Zealand and was detained for 20 months for refusing to sign documents that would lead to his deportation to Iran.

Some politicians questioned how genuine his conversion was, but he had staunch allies in the Anglican Church, particularly from Archbishop David Moxon.

Mr Panah's lawyer Grant Illingworth told a media conference at a Christian college in Auckland today that the authority recognised that he was in greater peril in Iran because of the publicity.

"Because of the publicity that was created as a result of the fast that Ali went on, it is absolutely inevitable that the Iranian authorities would know about Ali's position.

"They will know that he has claimed to be a Christian, they would know that he has claims to renounce Islam, and they would know that they have been criticised."

Mr Illingworth said that it was the publicity rather than Mr Panah's fasting alone that had been a factor.

"He went on a fast in prison believing that God had told him to go on that fast.

"Other people found out about his situation and mounted a campaign to free him."

Mr Illingworth did not think the decision would encourage others to try something similar in order to stay in New Zealand.

"I don't know how many of you have ever tried fasting. I have," he said.

"Fasting more than 24 hours is not easy, fasting more than two or three days is extremely difficult and for someone to fast for 50 days is extremely rare."

Mr Illingworth said a law before the Iranian legislature would see the death penalty possible for any Muslim who converted to another religion.

Mr Panah believed God had directed him to come to New Zealand and thanked those who prayed for him.

Archbishop Moxon who visited Mr Panah on day 50 of his fast said he and other church leaders had seen others whose claimed conversions were not clearly genuine but they were in no doubt Mr Panah was a converted Christian.

- NZPA