Returning a Christian convert to Pakistan? MAM v Switzerland

Background

In MAM v Switzerland [2022] ECHR 317 [in French], the applicant, a Pakistan national, had arrived in Switzerland as an asylum seeker in 2015. He had told the Swiss authorities that for the previous ten years his family had been in a land dispute with a neighbouring family and that after his family had won a court case over the dispute, members of the opposing family had tried to kill him – whereupon he had left the country [4]. Not long after arriving in Switzerland he became a practising Salvationist and decided to be baptised. Because the Salvation Army does not practise baptism, in 2016 he was baptised at a Mennonite church, with several Salvationists present [6-9].

In 2018, the Secrétariat d’État aux migrations rejected his asylum application on the grounds that his fear of persecution on account of the land dispute was not a valid reason for granting it. He could escape persecution by moving to another part of Pakistan – which, in any case, was not a generally violent country [11].

He appealed to the Federal Administrative Court, pointing out that apostasy was an offence punishable by death under Islamic law and that the blasphemy laws in Pakistan were being misused against non-Muslims [12]. The Federal Administrative Court dismissed his appeal [17] on the grounds that the territorial dispute was a private matter [18], that persecution of Christians in Pakistan was not so widespread that every Christian could expect to suffer persecution [20], and that MAM could always move to an area with a larger Christian community [22].

The arguments

Before the ECtHR, he argued that the refusal of asylum violated Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (torture, inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 9 (thought conscience and religion) ECHR. He had converted to Christianity after his arrival in Switzerland and his return to Pakistan would expose him to a real risk of torture or degrading treatment. There were international reports of Christians in Pakistan being persecuted, and converts to Christianity risked persecution by their families or by the State [38-40]. The Government countered that MAM had only claimed his conversion when he appealed to the Federal Administrative Court [53] and there was no concrete indication that since that disclosure, members of his family or third parties had threatened him or reported him to the Pakistani authorities [55].

The judgment

The Court noted that, in reaching its conclusions as to the general situation of Christians in Pakistan, the Federal Administrative Court had studied the situation of Christians but had not specifically examined the position of converts [74]. The UK Home Office report of February 2021, Country Policy and Information Note Pakistan: Christians and Christian converts, had reported that those known to have converted to Christianity experienced serious acts of violence, intimidation and discrimination by non-state actors that might in individual cases amount to persecution and/or serious harm [75].

Before dismissing his appeal, the Federal Administrative Court had not carried out a sufficiently in-depth study of the situation of converts to Christianity and of MAM’s personal situation in particular [78]. There would therefore be a violation of Articles 2 and 3 if he were returned to Pakistan without a thorough and rigorous investigation both of the general situation of Christian converts in Pakistan and of his personal circumstances [80]. It was not necessary separately to examine the complaint under Article 9 [84].

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Returning a Christian convert to Pakistan? MAM v Switzerland" in Law & Religion UK, 28 April 2022, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2022/04/28/returning-a-christian-convert-to-pakistan-mam-v-switzerland/

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