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Strasbourg Court: Former Muslim converted to Christianity cannot be deported back to Pakistan

Published: 16.05.2022

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· The European Court of Human Rights upheld the complaint of a converted Muslim man against Christianity whom Switzerland wanted to deport back to Pakistan.

· The Swiss authorities took the view that the persecution of Christians in Pakistan was not serious enough to endanger the applicant's life and freedom in the event of his return.

· The Ordo Iuris Institute intervened in the case by submitting an amicus curiae brief in which he indicated that the persecution of Christians in Pakistan was real and serious.

In 2015, a Pakistani man applied to the Swiss authorities for asylum, citing the threat to his life resulting from the death threats he received from his relatives' neighbors, who stayed with them in a dispute over a plot of land. In 2016, while in Switzerland, the man converted to Christianity, joining one of the Protestant communities operating in the refugee camp where he was staying. Following a lengthy procedure, authorities refused to grant him asylum in 2018, pointing out that he could have avoided the threats by moving to another part of Pakistan. The man appealed against the decision to the administrative court, pointing out that his baptism was a significant new circumstance in the case, because if he returned to Pakistan, his life would be at risk of persecution by radical Muslims. The credibility of the Pakistani was confirmed in ten letters of recommendation issued by the pastor and other representatives of the community he joined. His family, hearing about his conversion, cut off contacts with him, and his brother - an imam studying in Saudi Arabia - threatened him with "consequences" if he returned to Pakistan. In 2020, the administrative court dismissed the man's complaint, finding his declarations of faith in Christ unconfirmed. At the same time, he stated that even if the applicant was a truly zealous Christian, the scale of the persecution of Christians in Pakistan is so small that it poses a significant threat to him.

In the same year, the man submitted a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Ordo Iuris Institute intervened in the case, presenting an amicus curiae brief in which it contradicted the findings of the Swiss court, pointing out that Christians in Pakistan are systematically discriminated against, exposed to persecution not only from private individuals but also from the state. There, "blasphemy" against the Islamic faith is a crime punishable by the death penalty, which can exceptionally be replaced by life imprisonment or 25 years imprisonment.

In 2022 the Strasbourg Court ruled that if Switzerland were to deport the applicant to Pakistan, it would thereby violate his right to life and the prohibition of ill-treatment. The Court noted that the Swiss court limited itself to analyzing the general situation of Christians in Pakistan, but did not examine at all the threats to the risks of converts - Muslims who abandoned Islam in favor of Christianity.

- The judgment of the ECtHR is another success in sensitizing the international community to the fate of Christians persecuted in Asian countries because of their religion. The Court rightly drew attention to the special threats to converts from Islam, who are treated by fundamentalist Muslims more severely than Christians who do not come from Islamic families. It is clear from reports from government institutions, international organizations and expert bodies that Pakistan has a systemic problem with respect for religious freedom, including the right to change one's religion and the right to evangelization. Former Muslims fleeing this country from persecution should count on obtaining international legal protection in European countries - emphasizes Weronika Przebierała, director of the International Law Center of the Ordo Iuris Institute.

Case of M. A. M. v. Switzerland, judgment of the ECtHR of April 26, 2022.

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