Case of European Court of Human Rights, March 23, 2016 (case F.G. v. SWEDEN)

Defense:SWEDEN
Resolution Date:March 23, 2016

GRAND CHAMBER

CASE OF F.G. v. SWEDEN

(Application no. 43611/11)

JUDGMENT

STRASBOURG

23 March 2016

This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.

In the case of F.G. v. Sweden,

The European Court of Human Rights, sitting as a Grand Chamber composed of:

Guido Raimondi, President,Dean Spielmann,András Sajó,Josep Casadevall,Ineta Ziemele,Elisabeth Steiner,George Nicolaou,Ledi Bianku,Vincent A. De Gaetano,Julia Laffranque,Paulo Pinto de Albuquerque,Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos,Helena Jäderblom,Aleš Pejchal,Krzysztof Wojtyczek,Dmitry Dedov,Robert Spano, judges

and Johan Callewaert, Deputy Grand Chamber Registrar,

Having deliberated in private on 3 December 2014 and on 7 January 2016,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the last‑mentioned date:

PROCEDURE

  1. The case originated in an application (no. 43611/11) against the Kingdom of Sweden lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by an Iranian national, Mr F.G. (“the applicant”), on 12 July 2011. The President of the Grand Chamber acceded to the applicant’s request not to have his name disclosed (Rule 47 § 4 of the Rules of Court).

  2. The applicant, who had been granted legal aid, was represented by Mr D. Loveday, member of the Bar of England and Wales, practising in Sweden. The Swedish Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr A. Rönquist, Ambassador and Director General for Legal Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

  3. The applicant alleged, in particular, that his expulsion to Iran would entail a violation of Articles 2 and 3 of the Convention.

  4. The application was allocated to the Fifth Section of the Court (Rule 52 § 1). On 25 October 2011 the President of the Section to which the case had been allocated decided to apply Rule 39, indicating to the Government that the applicant should not be expelled to Iran for the duration of the proceedings before the Court. On 16 January 2014 a Chamber composed of Mark Villiger, President, Angelika Nußberger, Boštjan M. Zupančič, Ann Power-Forde, André Potocki, Paul Lemmens, Helena Jäderblom, judges, and also of Claudia Westerdiek, Section Registrar, delivered its judgment. It held that the implementation of the expulsion order against the applicant would not give rise to a violation of Articles 2 or 3 of the Convention. The joint dissenting opinion of judges Zupančič, Power-Forde and Lemmens was annexed to the judgment.

  5. On 16 April 2014 the applicant requested that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber in accordance with Article 43 of the Convention, and the panel of the Grand Chamber accepted the request on 2 June 2014.

  6. The composition of the Grand Chamber was determined according to the provisions of Article 26 §§ 4 and 5 of the Convention and Rule 24.

  7. The applicant and the Government each filed further written observations (Rule 59 § 1) on the merits.

  8. In addition, third-party comments were received from the European Centre for Law and Justice, the Alliance Defending Freedom assisted by Jubilee Campaign, the Advice on Individual Rights in Europe (“the AIRE Centre”), the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (“ECRE”), the International Commission of Jurists, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”), which had been granted leave by the President of the Grand Chamber to intervene in the written procedure (Article 36 § 2 of the Convention and Rule 44 § 3).

  9. A hearing took place in public in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on 3 December 2014 (Rule 59 § 3).

    There appeared before the Court:

    (a) for the GovernmentMrAnders Rönquist, Ambassador and Director Generalfor Legal Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Agent;Ms Helen Lindquist, Ms Maria Westman-Clément, Ms Linda Öman Bristow, Advisers;

    (b) for the applicantMrDavid Loveday, member of the Bar of Englandand Wales, practising in Sweden, Counsel,MsHanna Pettersson, MsAngela Evans, Advisers.

    The Court heard addresses by Mr Rönquist and Mr Loveday as well as their replies to questions from Judges Spano, Jäderblom, Bianku, Pinto de Albuquerque and De Gaetano.

    THE FACTS

    1. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE

  10. The applicant was born in 1962 and lives in Sweden.

  11. He entered Sweden on 16 November 2009 and applied for political asylum.

  12. On 19 February 2010, counsel appointed the applicant made written submissions to the Migration Board (Migrationsverket) in which he developed the grounds for the applicant’s request for political asylum.

  13. On 24 March 2010 the Migration Board held an oral interview with the applicant in the presence of his counsel and an interpreter. The applicant handed over a declaration of 15 March 2010 from a pastor in Sweden certifying that the applicant had been a member of his congregation since December 2009 and had been baptised. The Migration Board official therefore started the interview by asking about that matter. The applicant replied that it was a private matter “in [his] heart”, adding: “It has nothing to do with this but if you want to ask questions you may. All problems in my home country are caused by Islam entering Iran ...”. The Migration Board official explained that the reason why he was asking questions about it was that he had interpreted the certificate as though the applicant had relied on his conversion as a ground for asylum. The applicant stated: “no, it is not something I want to rely on. It is something private”. The Migration Board official then suggested a break in the interview in order for the applicant and his counsel to confer. After a ten-minute break, counsel stated: “the applicant wants to underline that he has not changed religion in order to enhance his chances of getting a residence permit but out of personal conviction”. When asked when he had converted, the applicant replied that this had happened after he had arrived in the Swedish town of X, where there were not many Iranians. He had got to know a person who went to church four times a week. This person knew that the applicant hated Islam. The applicant continued: “I do not regard Christianity as a religion”. When asked why that was so, the applicant replied: “if regarded as a religion it would be like Islam, but Christianity is about a kind of love you have for God”. He explained that he had been going to the congregation’s gatherings two to four times per week and that he read the Bible. The applicant gave examples of miracles and prophecies from the Bible which had attracted him to Christianity. The Migration Board official asked why, if the applicant did not wish to rely on his conversion as a ground for asylum, he had nevertheless handed in the certificate from the pastor, to which the applicant replied: “I don’t know. I never asked for it and I had not even considered handing it in, but you wanted it. They gave all converts a certificate like that”.

  14. The rest of the interview dealt with the applicant’s political past. The applicant explained that in Iran he had worked with persons connected to different universities who were known to oppose the regime. He had mainly worked on creating and publishing web pages. He and one of the other persons had been arrested in April 2007. He had been released after 24 hours and then hospitalised for ten days due to high blood pressure.

  15. Before the elections on 12 June 2009, the applicant had worked with the Green Movement, who had supported Mousavi for the presidential position, by spreading their message via the Internet. The day before the elections, he and his friends had been arrested, questioned and detained in the polling station overnight.

  16. After the elections, the applicant had participated in demonstrations and other activities. He had been arrested once again in September 2009 and imprisoned for twenty days. He had been ill-treated in prison. In October 2009 he had been taken before the Revolutionary Court, which had released him after a day on condition that he cooperate with the authorities and spy on his friends. He had agreed to the demands and given his business premises as a guarantee. He had also assured them that he would not participate in any demonstrations and that he would respond to their summons. Following his release in a park, he had found that his business premises had been searched. He had kept politically sensitive material there, which the authorities must have noticed, and his passport and other documents were missing.

  17. Subsequently, the applicant was summoned to appear on 2 November 2009 before the Revolutionary Court. He had contacted a friend who, in turn, had obtained the help of a smuggler to enable him to leave the country. The applicant submitted a summons from the Revolutionary Court dated 21 October 2009 stating that he should present himself at Evin prison in Teheran on 2 November 2009.

  18. The interview before the Migration Board lasted approximately two hours and the record was subsequently sent to the applicant and his counsel for comment. Counsel commented that the applicant had not read the certificate from the congregation’s pastor before the interview as it had not been translated and that the applicant intended to submit the formal baptism certificate.

  19. On 29 April 2010 the Migration Board rejected the applicant’s request for asylum. By way of introduction, it stated that while the applicant had not proven his identity or citizenship he had established the probability thereof.

  20. As regards the request for political asylum, the Migration Board held that participation in demonstrations or affiliation with the Green Movement could not, of itself, give rise to a risk of persecution, ill-treatment or punishment on his return to Iran. The Migration Board noted that the applicant had changed his story in some parts during the proceedings, and in particular, he had changed his statements concerning the number of times he had been arrested. Furthermore, he had not...

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