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UK Supreme Court ruling protects apolitical asylum seekers

The UK Supreme Court [official website; press release, PDF] on Wednesday ruled that the right not to hold political opinions should be protected in the same manner as the right to affirmatively hold a political, religious or other belief. With the unanimous seven-justice ruling [opinion, PDF] the court held that asylum seekers should not be expected or required to lie about their political beliefs [Guardian report], that the right to be apolitical and hold no opinion should be protected by the 1951 Refugee Convention [UNHCR backgrounder] like any other tenet under the notion of freedom of opinion. The complex ruling dismissed an appeal by the Home Secretary [official website] in an attempt to deport several Zimbabwean asylum seekers on the grounds that they would not be in danger if returned to their home country because they had not been members of the Zimbabwe opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) or other active opponents of the current government. The court disagreed:

The risk of persecution resulted in particular from the activities at road blocks of ill-disciplined militia gangs. ... The means used by those manning road blocks to establish whether a person was loyal to the ruling Zanu-PF party included requiring them to produce a Zanu-PF card or sing the latest Zanu-PF campaign songs. An inability to do these things would be taken as evidence of disloyalty to the party and therefore of support for the opposition. In deploying these militia gangs, the regime "unleashed against its own citizens a vicious campaign of violence, murder, destruction, rape and displacement designed to ensure that there remains of the MDC nothing capable of mounting a challenge to the continued authority of the ruling party" ... The risk of not being able to demonstrate loyalty to the regime exists throughout the country, in both urban and rural areas.
The court found that the militias had stopped attempting to identify members of the MDC or others they hold responsible for producing the "wrong" result in the 2008 election, hurting instead anyone who they determined to be outside Zanu-PF. The court concluded that such danger requires the UK to halt deportation proceedings against apolitical asylum seekers.

Minority populations suffer from sectarian violence in countries around the world. Last week Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] stated that the violence against minority Rohingyas [BBC backgrounder] and other Muslims has increased since a state of emergency was declared [JURIST report] in the western Myanmar [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] state of Rakhine, including human rights violations such as rape, destruction of property and unlawful killings. A week earlier the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [official website] reported that 10 UN staff and aid workers have been arrested [JURIST report] in the northwestern Rakhine state and three of them are facing unknown criminal charges. Also that week AI criticized the government of Kuwait [BBC backgrounder] for continuing to limit the rights of the Bidun jinsiyya, which is Arabic for "without nationality" and identifies a class of illegal immigrants in Kuwait and United Arab Emirates (UAE) who remain non-citizens, either because their ancestors immigrated without filling out state paperwork before 1920 or they settled as a refugee in the nation after 1920. In June Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] issued a report documenting refugee abuse and urging the government of China to provide basic food and shelter needs to thousands of refugees fleeing sectarian violence in neighboring Myanmar.

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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