Finland - Helsinki Administrative Court, 29 June 2010, 10/0868/1

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Headnote: 

The applicant, from Iran, claimed asylum based on his political opinion and religious belief (the applicant converted from Islam to Christianity on arrival in Finland). Refugee status was refused as the applicant failed to establish that he had come to the attention of the authorities through political activities or religious practices. A residence permit was granted based on subsidiary protection. The Court relied on the applicant’s conversion to Christianity, evidence of harassment of Christians in Iran and the overall deteriorating human rights situation.

Facts: 

The applicant had studied Christianity in Iran but officially converted after his arrival in Finland. Additionally, the applicant supplemented his asylum claim with information regarding his involvement in a students’ union, whose activities resulted in problems with the authorities. The applicant claimed he was arrested four times for his activities in the students' union.The Finnish Immigration Service rejected the applicant’s claim for asylum and decided to return the applicant to Iran.

Decision & Reasoning: 

According to the Administrative Court, the applicant did not provide enough evidence on the description of events concerning his involvement in the students’ union and thus was not deemed credible. The Court did not accept that the applicant had previously come to the attention of the authorities and concluded that he was therefore not in need of asylum or international protection (on this ground).

The Court cited a UK Home Office Country of Origin Information report on Iran, according to which the Iranian government continuously and systematically infringes the rights of its citizens to religious freedom. In recent years, the situation has worsened. The Court also noted that the Iranian parliament is currently working on new legislation which would make converting from Islam punishable by death, according to Iranian penal law (not only Sharia Law).

The Court also cited UNHCR Guidelines on International Protection: Religion-Based Refugee Claims 28.4.2004, which states that those who convert from Islam to Christianity, or some other religion, after entering the country of asylum should be evaluated on a case by case basis. What needs to be considered were the reasons behind the conversion, the applicant’s individual circumstances as well as how widely the event has been publicised. Reports that Iranian embassies monitor Iranian citizens activities abroad were also noted by the Court.

Based on the applicant’s description of the reasons for his conversion to Christianity, and his religious beliefs, the Administrative Court held that the applicant’s conversion to Christianity was credible. The Administrative Court held there was no proof that the applicant’s conversion had come to the attention of the Iranian authorities by way of his political activities, religious practices or some other means. The Court refused to grant the applicant asylum based on his conversion to Christianity.

However, it was held that the applicant’s conversion to Christianity may in the future, come to the attention of the Iranian authorities through a variety of means. Therefore, the applicant’s conversion to Christianity, the recent overall worsening of the human rights situation in Iran, as well as particularly the increase in harassment of Christians taken togehter in this case form a situation which might lead to a threat of inhuman treatment in Iran. The Court held that as a Muslim who converted to Christianity, the applicant cannot be considered as able to return to his country of origin without a risk that he would face a real danger of suffering serious harm. The applicant should therefore be granted a residence permit based on subsidiary protection status.
 

Outcome: 

The applicant was granted a residence permit based on subsidiary protection status.

Other sources cited: 

UK Home Office Country of Origin Information report Iran, 26 January 2010

Amnesty International: Death Sentences and Executions in 2009

U.S. Department of State: 2009 Human Rights Report Iran, 11.3.2010

UNHCR Guidelines on International Protection No. 6: Religion-Based Refugee Claims under Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention and/or the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, 28 April 2004, HCR/GIP/04/06