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European court opposes deportation of Afghan convert to Christianity

AFGHANISTAN

Defense photograph by Lt. j. g. Joe Painter-RELEASED-(CC BY 2.0)

John Burger - published on 11/06/19 - updated on 11/07/19

The court said that the refugee's life would be in danger if he were to be sent back home from Switzerland.

A Muslim from Afghanistan who became a Christian would be in serious danger if he were to return to the Middle Eastern country, the European Court of Human Rights agreed. The court ruled in favor of the Afghan citizen, who sought asylum in Switzerland and faced deportation.

The person would have faced severe persecution if deported back to Afghanistan, said ADF International, which intervened in the case of A.A. v. Switzerland. Conversion from Islam to another religion is considered “apostasy” and can be punished with anything from lengthy imprisonment to death, the human rights legal firm said.

“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith,” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International. “Our society has a responsibility to protect those who are facing torture, imprisonment, or death due to their religious beliefs. Afghanistan counts as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for Christians and, in particular, for converts. ADF International’s intervention sought to highlight the severe breaches of human rights in Afghanistan against religious minorities and especially the widespread persecution of Christians. We welcome this important judgment from the European Court of Human Rights, affirming that Christians should not have to hide their faith to avoid persecution.”

ADF explained that the Afghan Constitution protects religious freedom in general, but also defines Islam as the state religion and prohibits the enactment of any law contradicting Islamic beliefs. This creates a parallel legal system based on Sunni law, enforced by so-called jirga civil courts, the firm said in a statement. These civil courts investigate “crimes against God.” Such “hudud” crimes like apostasy, blasphemy, anti-Islamic writings or speech, and proselytism are considered serious and punishable by beheadings for males, life imprisonment for females, confiscation of property, and inheritance limitations.

“Today, the Judges of the Strasbourg Court held that the applicant (identified only as ‘A.A.’) would be compelled to conceal their Christian faith and would in effect ‘be forced to live a lie’ if deported to Afghanistan by the Swiss authorities,” said Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International in Strasbourg. “The Court was critical of the Swiss authorities and their failure to properly conduct an assessment of the risks and consequences of deporting a Christian convert to Afghanistan. It concluded that this was in breach of Switzerland’s obligations to protect individuals from torture under the European Convention of Human Rights.”

“We are glad that the Strasbourg Court has used this case to uphold the rights of Christians to openly profess their faith without facing the threat of physical violence, imprisonment, and possibly the death penalty. Switzerland, and every other member state of the European Convention on Human Rights, has an obligation in international law to protect those fleeing religious persecution,” Price said.

ADF said that international law protects refugees from being returned to territories where their life could be in danger. In its International Religious Freedom Report, the U.S. State Department reported that individuals who converted from Islam faced annulment of their marriages, rejection by their communities and families, loss of employment, and possibly the death penalty.

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Christians in the Middle East
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