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European Court of Human Rights: Switzerland violated human rights by refusing to grant asylum to a Muslim convert to Christianity

Published: 19.12.2019

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The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that Switzerland violated human rights by denying asylum to an Afghan man who converted to Christianity from Islam and fled his homeland fearing persecution. According to the Court, deportation would render the man unable to freely practise his religion and would result in inhuman and degrading treatment.

The Afghani immigrant filed an asylum application in 2014, stating that he had left his country because he had converted to Christianity and feared for his safety. The Swiss State Secretariat for Migration denied him asylum in 2015, judging his statements lacking in credibility. The man lodged a complaint with the Swiss Federal Administrative Court, which acknowledged his conversion from Islam to Christianity as authentic, but ultimately ruled that it was not necessary to grant him asylum. In the eyes of the Swiss court, the man was in no danger should he return to Afghanistan, the reason being that he did not have to return to his family, but instead could live with his relatives in Kabul, who did not know about his conversion. The man then filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, which called upon the Swiss authorities to postpone his deportation until the issue was resolved.

The ECHR ruled that Switzerland violated Article 3 of the Convention, as deportation could result in the man being treated in an inhuman and degrading way. The judges stated that, based on international reports on the current situation in Afghanistan, native Afghanis who convert to Christianity risk persecution from various groups. The ECHR was critical of the justification given for the Swiss ruling, pointing out that the court failed to verify how the complainant practised Christianity in Switzerland and whether he would be able to continue practising to the same degree in Afghanistan. In relation to the Swiss court’s statement that the man could live with his relatives who did not know of his conversion, the ECHR noted that doing so could force him to hide his religion and thus make it a purely private matter.

“The ECHR ruling in this case sets a precedent. It is the first ruling which acknowledges with such clarity the threats faced by Christians living in Muslim countries, in particular by former Muslims. It is an important step towards increasing the religious freedom of Christians, which also includes the right to convert, for example from Islam to Christianity,” says Karina Walinowicz, Director of the Ordo Iuris Centre for Religious Freedom.

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