Switzerland 'ignored risks faced by Pakistani Christian in asylum case'

European court rules that expulsion would breach the man’s rights to life

Christians are the second-largest religious minority in Pakistan and represent 1.6 per cent of the population. EPA

A European court has told Switzerland to pay nearly €7,000 ($7,425) to a Christian convert from Islam because it failed to assess the risk to his life if he was sent back to Pakistan following an unsuccessful asylum claim.

The court ruled that the authorities would breach the rights to life and to avoid torture or degrading treatment if they sent the man – identified only as M.A.M – back to Pakistan after seven years in Switzerland.

The man, who is in his 20s, first claimed asylum in the country in 2015 after claiming a family tried to kill him over a land dispute in Pakistan. He had no personal links to the country, his lawyer said.

He moved between different refugee centres in Switzerland and was baptised the following year after attending different Christian places of worship, a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights showed.

He was joined only by a pastor at his asylum hearing and did not have a lawyer throughout the asylum process, it said.

His asylum request was turned down in 2018 and a series of appeals were thrown out before he appealed to the European court. His potential expulsion was suspended pending the result of the case.

Christians, including converts, have been attacked in Pakistan and accused of blasphemy, a criminal offence that carries the death penalty.

The court quoted a British government document from 2021 that said converts were likely to suffer “societal discrimination and harassment that … amounted to persecution”.

Christians represent 1.6 per cent of Pakistan's population, the second-largest religious minority in the country behind Hindus.

The British government report said there were 16 convictions of Christians for blasphemy in Pakistan between 2001 and 2019. It said that in January 2021, 53 people were jailed for their faith, including 31 Christians, with at least 11 sentenced to death.

The court, in Strasbourg, France, said the Swiss authorities “failed to conduct a sufficiently detailed examination of the situation of Christian converts and of the applicant’s personal situation concerning his conversion”.

The panel of seven judges ordered the Swiss authorities to pay the man €6,885 in costs and expenses. The Swiss government has the right of appeal.

The man can now reapply for asylum in Switzerland, which will be granted because of the ruling, according to his lawyer Holger Hembach.

"Sooner or later he will get permission to stay in Switzerland," he said.

The court ensures that members of the 46-state Council of Europe respect human rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Updated: April 27, 2022, 10:15 AM