STRASBOURG, France – Alliance Defending Freedom and Jubilee Campaign filed a brief with the European Court of Human Rights Thursday highlighting the dire situation facing Christian converts in Iran. In January, a lower chamber of the court ruled that Sweden had not violated the European Convention on Human Rights by denying an Iranian citizen’s request for asylum. The court held that no real threat was posed to the applicant’s life by returning him to Iran because he had kept his faith private – a point ADF and Jubilee Campaign challenge in their brief.
“Christians should be able to practice their faith openly without fearing for their lives,” said ADF Legal Counsel Paul Coleman. “We are encouraging the Grand Chamber to protect this citizen’s right to life. The human rights situation for Christians in Iran has been well-documented, and there is little doubt that a Christian convert from Islam would face a real risk of harm if he is forced to return to his country.”
The Grand Chamber recently granted the request of ADF and Jubilee Campaign to intervene in the case, F.G. v. Sweden, to provide submissions on the legal and social challenges facing Christians in Iran.
In 2009, the Iranian citizen applied for asylum and a resident permit after suffering political persecution for working as a web publisher in Iran and opposing the Iranian regime. A year later, he converted from Islam to Christianity. In November 2011, Sweden denied his request, and he then appealed the decision. In January, the Fifth Section of the European Court of Human Rights found that his expulsion to Iran did not violate his right to life since Iranian authorities may have been unaware of his religious conversion, and he can avoid any danger, the court reasoned, by keeping his faith a “private matter.”
“Apostasy from Islam is considered a capital offence,” the written observations submitted Thursday explain. “Those at the greatest risk appear to be converts from Islam, particularly those who seek to worship in community with others or speak freely about their faith. These people are viewed as deviant by the state and routinely subject to arbitrary arrest and detention in conditions violative of Article 3,” which prohibits torture and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The brief argues that the lower chamber’s decision limits religious freedom, and that the European Court has ruled that “freedom of religion is not limited to private conscience; it ‘also encompasses the freedom to manifest one’s belief, alone and in private, but also to practice in community with others and in public.’”
“There is no doubt that Christians face the risk of persecution in Iran,” added ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Robert Clarke. “The lower chamber underestimated the severe danger to this convert’s life and is allowing his religious freedom to be violated by advocating that this person’s faith remain private. We hope the Grand Chamber will reverse the lower chamber’s decision.”
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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