STRASBOURG (18.01.2018) – This week, ADF International filed an expert brief with the European Court of Human Rights in support of an Afghan citizen who is facing deportation from Switzerland. A.A. (anonymized for security reasons) converted from Islam to Christianity and sought asylum, which the Swiss government denied. If returned to Afghanistan, he could face severe social and formal persecution, with punishments ranging from lengthy imprisonment to death.
“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. Our society has a responsibility to protect those who are facing torture, imprisonment or death due to their religious beliefs,” said Jennifer Lea, Legal Counsel with ADF International, who filed the intervention with the Court.
“This case is about an Afghan citizen, who has sought the help of the European Court of Human Rights to shelter him from deportation and likely persecution in his home country. International law is very clear on the fact that no country should return a refugee to territories where his or her life could be in danger. Afghanistan is not a safe place for a Christian convert. The Court should ask Switzerland to stop turning a blind eye to the situation of religious minorities in Afghanistan.”
No safe place for converts
In its International Religious Freedom Report the US 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. In general, religious minorities cannot take part in normal religious or cultural activities. Christians have hardly any schools or churches, and are forced to worship privately, if at all.
While the Afghan Constitution protects religious freedom in general, it 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 Islamic Sunni law, enforced by so-called jirga civil courts. These civil courts investigate “crimes against God.” Such hudud crimes like apostasy, blasphemy, anti-Islamic writings or speech, and proselytizing are considered serious and punishable by beheadings for males, life imprisonment for females, confiscation of property, and inheritance limitations.
No complicity with religious persecution
“The European Court of Human Rights has a mandate to safeguard the rights of all people and to protect especially the most vulnerable. The case of A.A. v. Switzerland provides the Court with the opportunity to remind its 47 Member States that they each are legally required to defend religious freedom. This means much more than demanding a convert practice his faith in secret. Sending a refugee back to a country where they face persecution because of their faith is incompatible with the Convention,” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International.
“Christian converts face torture, imprisonment and death when returned to Afghanistan. Switzerland and other countries should not become complicit with the oppression of religious minorities but seek to protect potential victims.”
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