European Court of Justice rules in favour of persecuted believers

Thanks to Barnabas Fund and Stuart James at eChurch who have publicised the news of the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) ruling earlier this month that people who are persecuted in their native countries due to their religion have the right to apply for asylum in Europe.

The case brought to the court by the German government revolved around two Muslims from Pakistan who belong to the minority Ahmadi denomination.  They had sought refuge in Germany having received death threats and imprisonment because of their beliefs.  However, the German authorities rejected their request for asylum finding that the restrictions on the public practice of faith imposed on Ahmadis in Pakistan did not constitute persecution for the purposes of the right of asylum.

Their case was then taken to the ECJ where the court ruled that “Where they are sufficiently serious, certain forms of interference with the public manifestation of religion may constitute persecution… and therefore constitute a sufficient reason to obtain asylum in the EU.”

The ECJ also added that “Where it is established that, upon his return to his country of origin, the person concerned will engage in a religious practice which will expose him to a real risk of persecution, he should be granted refugee status. The national authorities cannot reasonably expect the applicant to abstain from the manifestation or practice of certain religious acts to escape persecution.”

You can read the  full ruling and details of the case here.

Following the court announcement, Lord Alton, Chairman of the British Parliament’s Cross-Party Working Group on Human Dignity responded:

“For too long European nations have continued with a policy of apathy towards the persecution of Christian minorities in distant lands.  However, with the possibility of religious communities now fleeing to Europe for asylum, Western governments may finally be spurred into tackling the root cause.

“While the question of asylum is a matter that should be properly handled by sovereign national governments (not least because of the additional load to the taxpayer), and not a panel of international unelected judges, the ECJ should be congratulated for recognising the importance of persecuted minorities – and the figures of which are growing.

“We have already seen a trend of Christians being forced to flee their homelands.  Over 100,000 Coptic Christians fled Egypt last year, while Iraq has seen its own Christian population decrease from 1.4 million in 1987 to fewer than 150,000 today.  In addition, the continued violence in Syria is beginning to turn Christian populations away from the Levant.

“I would encourage all European governments to recognise that the consequences of inaction are no longer limited to the villages of Pakistan or the streets of Cairo.  Failure to act now will result in a greater burden of responsibility for us all further in the future.”

This is a welcome ruling upholding articles 14 and 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which give freedom to practice religion and seek asylum from persecution.  So often it appears that European governments including our own have turned a blind eye to these violations, so to see the ECJ’s remarks is an acknowledgement that this issue cannot be ignored indefinitely.

Once again this news is another stark reminder of how privileged we are to have such an open society where choosing to be a Christian does not require the same level of sacrifice and risk that it does for millions around the world.  It’s a freedom we must never, ever take for granted.



Categories: Human rights, Persecution, The law & legal issues

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