European court says Iranian Christians are not in danger if they 'practice faith discreetly'

(Wikimedia Commons/CherryX)The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rejected an Iranian man's bid for asylum in Switzerland based on religious grounds, arguing that his life was not in danger despite reports of persecution of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic.

The court ruled last month that the man, identified only in reports as "Mr. A," could be deported back to Iran, noting that he did not have any reason to fear for his life, as long as he did not pose a threat to the government and "practise[d] his faith discreetly."

In an article for Forbes magazine, human rights advocate Ewelina Ochab described the ruling as "another blow to the victims of religious persecution."

Ochab noted that Mr. A was arrested while taking part in a demonstration and imprisoned for 22 days. He was able to escape while he was on his way to court, but he was sentenced in absentia to 36 months' imprisonment.

Swiss asylum authorities rejected Mr. A's first asylum bid, saying "his account was not credible as it was contradictory and, in relation to key aspects, not sufficiently substantiated."

Mr. A reapplied for asylum again after a few months, citing the risk of arrest and ill-treatment in Iran due to the breakdown of his relationship with his father as well as his conversion to Christianity.

The Swiss government denied the application for the second time, arguing that Mr. A's conversion to Christianity "did not in and of itself expose him to a real risk of ill-treatment. Such a risk could exist if he proselytised or attracted public attention in another way."

Mr. A took his case to the ECtHR, which banned Switzerland from deporting him throughout the proceedings. On Dec. 19, 2017, the court upheld the Swiss government's to deny Mr. A's asylum bid, saying "deportation to Iran would not give rise to a violation of Article 2 or 3 of the Convention', namely, violation of the right to life and prohibition of torture."

Ochab contended that the decisions made by the Swiss authorities and the ECtHR demonstrate that "religious persecution continues to be misunderstood and neglected."

She further noted that the report produced by Swiss authorities "differ significantly" from the reports of various organizations dealing with religious persecution.

Persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA has ranked Iran in the 2017 World Watch List as the eighth worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution.

The organization noted that Christian converts from Islamic backgrounds experience the most persecution in Iran. Historical Christian communities made up of Armenian and Assyrian Christians are protected by law, but they are treated as second-class citizens. Arrests and violence are commonplace for Christians taking part in evangelistic activities, according to Open Doors.

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