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Reprieve for Zim asylum seekers


LONDON — The United Kingdom Supreme Court has ruled that asylum seekers should not be expected or required to lie about their political beliefs in a decision likely to make it more difficult to deport asylum seekers to Zimbabwe.

In a unanimous judgment, the court dismissed an appeal by the Home Secretary, citing a campaign of persecution by “undisciplined militias” against those who do not profess active support for President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party.

The complex ruling by seven judges says that the right not to hold political opinions should be protected by the 1951 Refugee Convention in the same way as the right to hold religious views or other beliefs.

The Home Office had attempted to deport several asylum seekers, identified by the court only as RT and KM, to Zimbabwe on the grounds that they were not in danger if returned.

They had not been members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change or active opponents of the government. The Home Office country guidance for Zimbabwe, the court noted, describes a “campaign of persecution perpetrated by undisciplined militias who have delivered a quite astonishingly brutal wave of violence to whole communities thought to bear responsibility for the ‘wrong’ outcome of the March 2008 election”.

Anyone who cannot demonstrate positive support for Zanu PF or alignment with the regime is at risk.

“The means used to establish loyalty include requiring the production of a Zanu PF card or the singing of the latest Zanu PF campaign songs.

“Inability to do these is taken as evidence of disloyalty and therefore support for the opposition,” the court accepted.

In its judgment, the Supreme Court said: “There are no hierarchies of protection amongst the Refugee Convention reasons for persecution. Thus the Convention (to which the UK is signatory) affords no less protection to the right to express political opinion openly than it does to the right to live openly as a homosexual.

“… The right to freedom of thought, opinion and expression protects non-believers as well as believers and extends to the freedom not to hold and not to have to express opinions. There is no basis in principle for treating the right to hold and not to hold political beliefs differently from religious ones. There can also be no distinction between a person who is a committed political neutral and one who has given no thought to political matters.

“… Persecution on the grounds of imputed opinion will occur (in Zimbabwe) if a declared political neutral is treated by the regime as a supporter of its opponents and persecuted on that account.

“… If the claimant would return to other parts of the country, the judge would be likely to conclude that there was a real and substantial risk that a politically neutral person who pretended that he was loyal to the regime would be disbelieved and therefore persecuted.”

Thousands of Zimbabweans have sought refugee in overseas countries including the UK citing political persecution. – Guardian/Staff Reporter

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