Finland: The Supreme Administrative Court of Finland ruled that serious interference with religious freedom can constitute persecution

Thursday, September 10, 2020

On 10 September 2020, the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland ruled that serious interference with religious freedom can constitute persecution, thereby overturning the decision of the Finnish Immigration Service (FIS) and the Administrative Court.

The case concerns an application for international protection and residence permit made by the applicants and their minor child on the basis that, if returned to the Russian Federation, they would be at risk of being persecuted for their religious beliefs as Jehovah’s witnesses. The FIS accepted that the applicants would be subject to some violations on their rights in Russia, however, it did not accept the allegation that the applicants would be in danger because of their religious beliefs and practices. As such, the FIS did not consider this treatment to amount to persecution and rejected the application. The Administrative Court rejected the applicants’ appeal.

The Supreme Administrative Court was asked to consider whether the appellants would face a well-founded fear of persecution in Russia because of their religion and whether their reluctance to seek the protection of the State in Russia was reasonable. While the Court acknowledged that the CJEU (in Joined Cases C-71/11 and C-99/11, and C-56/17) recognized that interference in religious freedom may be sufficiently serious to constitute persecution, it underlined that not all interference with religious freedom can be regarded as an act of persecution. Indeed, in assessing whether an asylum applicant is in real danger of persecution based on his or her religion, account must be taken, inter alia, of the seriousness of any consequences of religious practice, of the effects on persons of restrictions on religious freedoms, the person’s attitude to his or her religion and the importance of that religion in his or her life. Furthermore, the prohibition of certain religious activities of particular importance to a person’s religious identity are relevant for the purposes of the assessment. In conclusion, the Court held that it is fundamental to any assessment, that a person cannot be reasonably required to renounce or conceal his religious beliefs or activities on return to his country of origin.

On the facts, the Supreme Administrative Court considered that the appellants had a well-founded fear of persecution in Russia. It could not be reasonably expected of them to renounce or conceal their religious practice upon return to Russia. Additionally, the Court held that, in view of the country information, the appellants could not be considered protected by public authorities. The Court annulled the decision of the FIS and the Administrative Court and referred the case to the FIS for the provision of asylum for the applicant family.

Based on an unofficial translation by the EWLU team.

This item was reproduced with the permission of ECRE from the ELENA Weekly Legal Update. The purpose of these updates is to inform asylum lawyers and legal organizations supporting asylum seekers and refugees of recent developments in the field of asylum law. Please note that the information provided is taken from publicly available information on the internet. Every reasonable effort is made to make the content accurate and up to date at the time each item is published but no responsibility for its accuracy and correctness, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by ECRE.