Pakistani Christian convert granted protection at Europe’s top court
Swiss authorities were wrong to reject asylum claim for Pakistani Christian convert facing persecution – rules European Court of Human Rights
Positive precedent set for persecuted religious minorities
STRASBOURG (26 April 2022) – A Pakistani Christian fearing persecution in case of deportation has won his case at the European Court of Human Rights. Swiss authorities had rejected his request for religious asylum. The man, known by the initials “M.A.M”, appealed against his deportation based on his conversion from Islam to Christianity – a religion known to face severe persecution in parts of South Asia. ADF International intervened in support of his case providing up-to-date information on the situation for converts in the region and highlighting the robust legal protections for not just believing something, but being able to live in accordance with those beliefs and express them publicly.
“Nobody should be persecuted for their faith. Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries for Christians with its draconian blasphemy laws and increasing violence against this religious minority. Converts face not only socio-political marginalization and institutionalized discrimination, but also blasphemy charges, arrest, long prison sentences, and vigilante mob violence. We welcome the Court’s decision that such factors must form part of any risk assessment for those, such as M.A.M who are claiming asylum based on religious grounds,” said Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Call for international action amidst alarming threats to religious minorities
While the Federal Administrative Court of Switzerland affirmed that M.A.M’s conversion was indeed credible and occurred prior to his asylum rejection, they nevertheless found that his rights to life, to protection from inhumane treatment and to freedom of thought, conscience or religion would not be in jeopardy were he to be returned to Pakistan.
Pakistan is currently placed at number 8 on the World Watch List, which ranks countries based on their level of Christian persecution. The persecution level is classed as “extreme” due in part to its blasphemy laws which carry the death penalty. Converts from Islam are considered apostates and face particular risk.
The case of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, a Christian couple who languished on death row for seven years on false blasphemy charges, serves as a well-known example of the current threat. After news of their acquittal broke in June 2021, the parents of four faced death threats and were forced to seek asylum in Europe.
Persecution through blasphemy laws
Stephen Masih, a Christian who suffers from bipolar disorder has already spent two years in jail after a Muslim neighbour accused him of committing blasphemy in March 2019. In March 2022, a court rejected his application for release on bail, even though the Punjab Institute of Mental Health determined that he suffers from bipolar disorder and is therefore unfit to stand trial. Due to the pandemic his hearings have been postponed several times. Human rights advocates have denounced the poor treatment of Masih and called for his release.
Masih’s story is just one of many examples of a violent phenomenon which affects members of religious minorities as blasphemy cases have increased in Pakistan over the last years. In January 2021, the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) reported that from 1947 to 2021, 89 citizens were killed in 1,415 accusations and cases of blasphemy in Pakistan. The highest number of blasphemy cases – 200 – was reported in 2020.
“International law protects the right to express one’s faith in public and in private. But, in Pakistan, simple attempts by Christians to talk about the faith with Muslim neighbours can be prosecuted under blasphemy laws, which can result in the death penalty. The cases of Shagufta and Shafqat and Stephen Masih, which gained international media attention, provide very real examples of the persecution that many Christians face. We are grateful the European Court of Human Rights recognizes the dangers faced in particular by Christian converts in Pakistan. This will hopefully afford better protection to M.A.M and others in danger of persecution,” said Tehmina Arora, Director of Advocacy, Asia for ADF International.
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