3. Asylum claim on the basis of religious persecution
Our client was born in China and lived there until coming to the UK as a student. Her mother was a devout Christian and attended ‘illegal’ house churches regularly (churches that are not sanctioned or authorised by the Chinese government). In 2000, her mother set up an unregistered house church in the family’s second home. The client came to the UK in 2005 as a student and had leave to stay in the UK as a student continuously until 2012. While in the UK she visited China in 2007 and 2009. Her final visit was in January 2012 when she returned to China with the intention of remaining there permanently.
Her mother told her that it was time for her to take over the running of the house church and to try to increase the membership. The client had seen Jehovah’s Witnesses in the UK knocking on doors to recruit members and decided to try this approach herself. She did not believe she was doing anything wrong. She then had a gathering of over 50 church members at her house church.
The meeting was raided by the police, whom she believed had been tipped off by someone. The police attempted to break up the meeting and a melee developed. In the course of it, the client accidentally caused injury to a police officer. The police tried to arrest her for assaulting the officer but other members of the church obstructed them and she was able to escape. She ran home and told her mother what had happened. Her mother advised her to flee before the police came for her which she did. The following day she flew to the UK, leaving her 2-year-old son in the care of his grandmother.
She was able to re-enter the UK as her student visa was still valid. She did not claim asylum on her return to the UK because she planned to return to China once things had quietened down. However, the police regularly visited her house looking for her, even though her parents had told them that she was in the UK. Her parents were forced to move to a different address to avoid harassment. The police then issued a warrant for her arrest with a reward of 10,000 RMB for any information leading to her capture. She could not therefore return to China. She feared that she would be arrested, subjected to arbitrary detention, denied her legal rights, and tortured for her religious beliefs. We helped our client to make a claim for asylum on this basis.
The Home Office refused our client’s claim for asylum. The refusal letter stated that she had displayed a poor knowledge of Christianity in her substantive asylum interview, given her claim that she had been a practising Christina all her life and to be so committed that she put herself in harm’s way by trying to recruit new members to an illegal church. She did not know what denomination of Christianity she belonged to. She had provided no evidence to support her claim to have attended house churches in the UK. Accordingly, the Home Office did not accept that she was a Christian or that she had attended house churches. The decision maker found her account of the police raid and her escape to be inherently implausible. Her claim was inconsistent with background country information that unregistered churches of modest size, while technically illegal, are generally tolerated by the Chinese authorities. Her claim that an arrest warrant was issued for her in 2012 was inconsistent with her account that she did not claim asylum in 2012 because she intended to return permanently to China. This delay in claiming asylum undermined her credibility. For all these reasons, her asylum claim was refused.
We submitted an appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) against the Home Office decision. We drafted the client’s witness statement which addressed all the Home Office reasons for refusal and prepared her appeal bundle by collating all relevant evidence to support her case, including the following country evidence publications:
Home Office, China: Christians (March 2016)
Annual Report Of The U.S. Commission On International Religious Freedom 2016
Society for Threatened Peoples (Germany), ‘Persecution of Christians in China: Authorities bereave hundreds of churches of their crosses and intimidate Believers’, 24.06.14
China Aid Association (USA), ‘China Aid president Bob Fu to Tell Congressional Hearing of Worsening Religious Persecution against Christians in China’, 21.05.14
At the appeal hearing the Tribunal Judge accepted that the client’s evidence was consistent with the background material in her case. The approach of the Chinese authorities was inconsistent. Freedom of religion is permitted in theory but state controlled. Churches must be registered and unregistered churches are illegal. The degree to which these requirements are enforced is variable. Christians are not generally at risk of persecution in China. However, those who worship at unregistered churches and who conduct themselves in such a way as to attract the authorities’ attention to them may be at risk of persecution. He found that the overall account given by the client in her asylum interview was coherent and detailed, as were the answers she gave at the appeal hearing. He was satisfied that she had given a truthful account and that to remove her to China would cause the UK to be in breach of its obligation sunder the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Therefore, she had discharged the burden of proof to establish that she was a refugee and our client was granted asylum on the basis of religious persecution in the UK.
Subsequently we made a successful application for entry clearance for the client’s son to join her in the UK as the child of a refugee under the family reunion provisions pursuant to paragraph 352D of the Immigration Rules.