The ECtHR has concluded that an asylum-seeker who has converted to Christianity will not necessarily face persecution if returned to Iran.
In A v Switzerland  ECHR (no. 60342/16), the applicant, an Iranian, entered Switzerland in 2009 and immediately claimed asylum. He brought three sets of asylum proceedings, all without success. In his second application, he submitted at a hearing that he would be at risk if returned to Iran because he had converted from Islam to Christianity. The authorities doubted, however, that his conversion was genuine and rejected his application. In 2014 the Federal Administrative Court dismissed his appeal: it considered that Christian converts would only face a risk of ill-treatment on return to Iran if they were particularly exposed in the public arena on account of their Christian faith and could be perceived as a threat by the Iranian authorities – but Mr A was an ordinary member of a Christian group and the authorities would, most likely, be unaware of his conversion. In 2016, his application was again rejected, essentially on the same grounds.
Relying on Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (prohibition of torture and of inhuman or degrading treatment), he alleged that his conversion to Christianity put him at a real risk of being killed or ill-treated if he were to be deported to Iran.
The Court considered that the general human rights situation in Iran did not, per se, prevent the deportation of an Iranian national and the issue was whether A’s conversion to Christianity while in Switzerland meant that he would face a real risk of treatment contrary to Articles 2 and 3 if he were deported to Iran . His conversion had been examined by the Swiss asylum authorities, who questioned him in person, and by the Federal Administrative Court in the second set of asylum proceedings. It was subjected to another assessment at two levels of jurisdiction in the set of proceedings leading to the present application .
The Swiss authorities in the present case had not based their conclusions on a rejection of Mr A’s conversion as not being credible; they considered that Christian converts would only face a real risk of ill-treatment upon return to Iran if they manifested their faith in a manner that would lead to them being perceived as a threat to the Iranian authorities. That required a certain level of public exposure which was not the case for Mr A. They considered that the Iranian authorities would take into account the fact that Iranian citizens sometimes attempted to rely on conversion to Christianity abroad in order to obtain refugee status and would take such that into account, resulting in Mr A not facing a real risk of ill-treatment upon his or her return .
The Court agreed with the Swiss Government that the situation of Christian converts in Iran required a nuanced approach and that converts who had not come to the attention of the authorities, including for reasons other than their conversion, and who practised their faith discreetly did not face a real risk of ill-treatment upon return . Mr A had been examined in person by the domestic authorities about his conversion to Christianity at two levels of jurisdiction in two sets of proceedings and there were no indications that those proceedings had been flawed or inadequate . In the circumstances, Mr A’s deportation to Iran would not give rise to a violation of Articles 2 and 3 .