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A Pakistani Christian pastor under imminent deportation did not behave “evangelical” enough to warrant asylum in the UK despite inducing significant death threats while conducting outreach - Pakistan deemed safe for terrified man to return to by the Home Office despite 99.8% rate of violence against Christians by persecution watchdog. While his request for Judicial Review was underway he was taken to the airport for deportation.
Asher Samson, a Pakistani Christian pastor seeking asylum in the UK was granted bail from Morton Hall Detention Centre in Lincolnshire on 27th December due to a procedural matter following a late response to a query.
Unfortunately for Asher after the new year had begun, he was again taken into custody on 4th January and ordered to appear for a deportation hearing today (9th January) in order to repatriate him in Pakistan.
Despite his high-risk profile and past experience of death threats and violence by extremists who he alleges are still, years later, making inquiries about his whereabouts he has been taken to Doncaster Sheffield Airport for deportation while the Judge is still reviewing the request.
British Pakistani Christian Association made contact with Asher Samson and has been connecting the family with legal resources and an experienced immigration lawyer. A BPCA researcher is now formulating a country-expert report under a tight deadline in an effort to register the concerns pertinent to Mr Samson’s case.
Mr Samson has not had a substantive asylum interview anytime between 2013 and 2017 and this will be challenged and a judicial review requested.
The lack of a substantive asylum interview is a serious procedural error that warrants a judicial review and though both the legal team involved with the case and BPCA are confident it will prevent deportation of Asher we call for global Christian prayer into this situation.
These interviews provide any information that may be lacking in order for a fair and just judgement to be made. They are the procedural protocol that fills in any information gaps decision makers may have.
BPCA is urging that the deportation order be ceased, and we invited you to sign the petition located at the end of this article.
Among the top 11 countries listed in Open Doors World Watch List 2018 that were rated as “extreme” Pakistan has the highest percentile in its profile for violence as being engaged in as a primary method of persecution against Christians: an undeniably dangerous 99.8%. For at least the past three years 2016, 2017, and 2018 Pakistan has held first pace for the most violent persecution against Christians. Find the 2018 World Watch List (here).
This ostensible open season on Christians, is no coincidence as extremists are increasingly putting pressure on political parties to accommodate radical views.
Newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is Oxford educated, even made claims in a speech to an Islamic Conference against the historicity of Jesus Christ in a derision of Christianity, ignoring both independent Roman and Jewish historical sources verifying the biblical Jesus’ existence.
Wilson Chowdhry said:
"It may seem strange that a leader of Prime Minister Khan's calibre and education could make these statements.
“However, given the deep-seated indoctrination of the Pakistani population against religious minorities endorsed in the national educational curriculum, perhaps it is not surprising to hear such a comment to marginalise the Christian faith…”
PM Imran Khan was widely criticized for catering to Islamic extremists both prior to and following his election, and his comments also seem politically expedient as demonstrated by the speed of the communication network that allowed Islamist mobs to shut down the entire country for days at a time while they rioted, robbed and killed people.
There were two nation-wide instances of a shutdown by extremists in 2018 and both were the result of religious sentiments: once for a typing error in a Muslim oath office and again when Asia Bibi – who has been held on death row for 8 years – was exonerated.
These also happen locally and regionally as indicated by attacks on Christian communities such as the one on blasphemy-accused Patras Masih where cricket rivals incited a mob threatening to burn down Christian homes with kerosene canisters in hand. Cricket rivals had tried previously to accuse Patras and then later succeeded after his phone was left vulnerable in a repair shop and went opportunistically missing. To read mores accounts in our coverage of the commissioned Global Report on Christian Persecution
The Open Doors Word Watch List 2018 report particularly states the risk from groups such as the one targeting Asher Samson. Open Doors reported:
“Most of the Christian persecution in Pakistan comes from radical Islamic groups that flourish under the favor of political parties, the army and the government.
“These radical Islamic groups run thousands of Islamic education centers where youth are taught and encouraged to persecute religious minorities like Christians.”
These reasons are exactly why Asher Samson was trying to communicate the very real and rational fear of returning to Pakistan to the Tribunal Judges and the Home Office seemingly to no avail.
A ruling by Deputy Upper Tribunal Judge Chapman, denied the right of appeal and repeated the ruling of the previous First-Tier judgment. She clarified her reasons for decision in her own October 2018 judgement.
She ruled that the appeal documents from the solicitors were submitted late and therefore no extension was requested. She goes into some discussion about whether she believes the error and inaccurate date that occurred in the court fax machine was a credible explanation by the lawyer. Stating that the deadline was missed for the appeal request she said:
“I find that there is a serious or significant failure to comply with the Rules and there is no good reason for it [to be] put forward” sic.
However, we wonder if a “good reason” might not be found in the legitimacy of the current and increasing risk profile for Christians in Pakistan.
We also would like to know why this error occurred as it seems pertinent to the cause of justice.
There is a duly noted need to follow protocol in the administration of the case but the judge has only noted the late submission and not identified the root problem of their other concerns which was the lack of a substantive review.
If Mr Samson’s solicitor’s explanation for the late submission was not acceptable to the judge or she did not believe council there is no good reason to endanger Mr Samson for an apparent clerical oversight. But what about the judges’ own complaint about a supposed lack of evidence?
In her final statement Judge Chapman takes great pains, despite her clear irritation at the late submission, to affirm her agreement with the First-Tier Judge regardless of this breach of protocol asserting her decision would not differ -
“For avoidance of doubt, even if the application had been made on time…”
She also stresses that her judgement was based upon, "the need to enforce compliance with the rules" and that she would not extend the time to allow the appeal for permission in time.
Even in the administrative tribunal system the appeal court judge appeals to the principle of "fairness" in the assessment of the First-Tier ruling, however this principle is somehow lost in her mind when it comes to the Appellant.
She describes the bungle with the submission deadline in great detail, because it was a matter of concern to her, however there is no indication that her decision needing to have instructional value for improving protocol was rendered in a manner that addressed the individual making the error in question. The lawyer made this administrative error and not the client.
By no means am I suggesting that the judge should not enforce compliance with the rules, nor do I question the right of any judge to command respect in their courtroom. Simply put, I am saying that Mr Samson ought not shoulder the consequences of her grievance under these circumstances where he has entrusted his representation to a solicitor as a particularly vulnerable asylum-seeker.
Throughout the judgement both Judges’ mindsets seem informed exclusively by British religious popular culture: one cognisant of a state church with career clergy, rather than an understanding of the gravity of the situation for a Pak-Christian who becomes noticed by extremists.
This harmful dearth of cultural information may actually extend to all officers of the court in the tribunal system, accordingly one of Asher's proponents, his brother-in-law Neil Walker, has noted:
"Asher has had 3 sets of solicitors besides the one he currently has from 2012 to the end of October 2018, arguably none was really fully equipped with the specialist 'religious' knowledge to properly present Asher's case…"
A kindly rendered statement to say the least, considering the harshness of resulting consequences of this lack of expertise for those whose fates are being determined by that system. This pertinent systemic illiteracy on matters of basic Christian theology and the current socio-religious context in Pakistan must be addressed.
Access to accurate and appropriate information should be a matter of importance to the Home Office and should be available for decisions makers and a new training regime needs to be implemented.
We were informed that only after the Appellant's family became aware of the late submission in the Judge Chapman’s written judgement was there was a loss of confidence in his legal representation. How demoralising to find out about a problem with your submission at that juncture.
Further to this point the we observe that Mr Samson was without a lawyer since November 2018 and represented by his minister and brother-in-law at his removal hearing in December where they successfully argued that there had not yet been a response to previous submissions by the court and where he was granted bail.
Judge Chapman also considers their grounds for appeal “unfair an unreasonable”; however, any legitimate asylum seeker would appeal a judgement questioning their credibility and that of their witnesses.
Simply put they still believe the previous judge “erred in his assessment of the credibility” of Mr Samson and his witnesses.
It is possible that the Judge made the best judgement he could with limited and therefore faulty data. But we need to determine where this error came from and why the data that he was assessing was inadequate.
We maintain that it is either in the Home Office criteria or in how the Judge was philosophically and culturally informed as he prepared his judgement. The lack of a substantive interview would mean that vital information pertinent to the case would be noticeable absence. There was more than one procedural error to notice – the lack of information for which they complain is the result of one of them.
It does not seem fair and reasonable that Mr Samson should be returned to Pakistan where he is a vulnerable target without immediate family because of the outdated criteria of the Home Office or a procedural error.
The initial Judge complained that there had “not been given a consistent account…of having received threats” but the reality is that threats of violence are normative against religious minorities and to some degree expected when doing evangelism as practiced in Mr Samson's religion.
The difference with Mr Samson is that he was particularly being sought out by extremists and apparently is still known to them. Regardless 99.8% rate of violence incidence of persecution which was also rated the highest in Pakistan in 2017 when the case was finally heard is clear indication that his claims of violence were credible.
The First-Tier Judge naively (through no fault of his own and in step with the Home Office) points out that there is no blasphemy allegation against Mr Samson, and this also discredits his asylum claim in the eyes of the law. However, this is a misnomer.
Mr Samson does fundamentally fear a blasphemy allegation resulting from the fact he is being targeted and that he has become noticeable. These allegations, are more often than not, handled extra-judicially. The conditions for religiously motivated hate- false allegations and violence are higher than normal and indeed they are normally high.
Whether they are registered as blasphemy allegations or not, personal offences are not forgotten. A long-standing grievance and sense of entitlement against Christians, means blasphemy allegations are precipitous, contrived and reattempted against those targeted.
As in the case of Asia Bibi – who the mob came for a week later; or Patras Masih - who was first targeted during a cricket match and later charged a month or so later when he took his phone in for repairs.
Now the two Ayub brothers, Qaisar and Amoon, most recently sentenced to death, who fled the country twice only to return after years on the run - the impetus for the allegation against one of them was an alleged comment at work about a co-worker’s female relative, with blasphemy-evidence spontaneously appearing on a website that was set up with accused personal information.
Somehow in a draconian two-for one agenda, the man’s brother was also caught up in the vendetta. They are a testament to the danger that can come to returnees whose asylum fails.
By far the most incredulous statement regarding Mr. Samson’s credibility, is the following:
“The evidence indicates that the Appellant has not previously behaved in an evangelical way.”
It is more than bemusing for a student of theology to hear this theological term in a tribunal setting where he is fears for his life in his homeland because he identifies so strongly with the sentiments expressed by the word, "evangelical".
Moreover, there are a number of letters and corroborating statements saying that this was normative and longstanding behaviour that represented well who Asher Samson is as an individual. Members of his family also were involved in Christian ministry as he has been.
Furthermore, he invested a huge amount of time and money on his studies to improve his ability to evangelise, making this conclusion seem very odd indeed.
Even though some of the reference letters were submitted after the judgment, his commitment to a theological education, though training is not necessary for a Christian to participate in or consider evangelism important, should have spoken droves.
His family members were asked closed ended questions by the Home Office representative at the First-Tier hearing that did not allow much further explanation about Asher’s background, which is curious way to operate in a refugee determination hearing where fact finding should be paramount.
Mr Samson had previous student visas admitting him to the UK were to study at a theological school.
To say there is no evidence he was engaged in proselytising or that he did "not previously behave in an evangelical way” is an incredible assertion.
Another question that was asked in the course of testimony that seemed strange in this regard is that Mr Samson was questioned about why as a Christian minister he would preach in homes and had not been preaching in a church.
This question was plausibly to see if he could secure a position at a church that would pay him a reasonable income should he be forced to return. Pastors often work bi-vocationally by necessity especially in locations where Christians are poor or disenfranchised so this culture-bound expectation was not well thought out.
However, by pointing this out both judges have clarified for themselves that Mr Samson often preached in homes and in doing so ironically highlight his evangelistic activities while denying in their judgement that there was enough evidence that he had ever engaged in them.
The judge also failed to recognise the important premise that church is the community of Christians and not a building or institution. Even as far back as New Testament times it was common to evangelise or meet house to house.
In fact, if Pastor Samson wanted to evangelise those he knew had never before heard the Gospel, then it would be preferable to preach in a home over a church in a hostile environment such as Pakistan.
Previously the Home Office has shown a propensity to evaluate applicants based on a western understanding of what they should know as to complex concepts in order to hold a particular belief.
The Home Office had previously engaged in a pressurised game of Biblical or philosophical trivia with asylum applicants to detect whether or not their belief system was valid.
This practice is now being admonished against in the training of assessors after BPCA raised concerns about professed Atheists being asked about Greek philosophy and Christians being drilled on obscure Bible passages. Read BBC article on Bible trivia scandal (here), read about new guidelines BPCA helped introduce to Home Office practice (here)
The same type of presumptive approach about what is deemed "an evangelical way" is and what it is not, seems to be present in how Mr Samson was evaluated.
Even if Mr Samson’s theological education and previous commitment to Christian ministry was not clear to the First-Tier Judge, it was an accepted fact that he was a genuine Christian.
But he was also categorically an evangelical Christian and it would have made sense for the Home Office or the Judge to inquire as to his specific background before making a statement negating the true facts.
The gall of this statement is pressed further by the fact, Mr Samson has been attending a Church with Methodist-Moravian ties for over 12 years.
The Moravian Church is famous for their missionary activity that early missionaries were so passionate to share their faith that some even argued that they would sell themselves into slavery to bring the Gospel to the West Indies.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, widely know was also profoundly impacted by the Moravians and his evangelistic exploits are widely known.
Given the four year gap between Asher’s first submission of his asylum claims and the First Tier hearing - her second to last statement imparts a deep irony in reading the following comments:
“…the need for ligation to be conducted efficiently and proportionate cost…
“The need to enforce compliance with the rules , practice directions and court orders…”
And finally her refusal - “to extend time so as to permit the application for permission to appeal in time.”
In basic hermeneutic interpretation it is a fundamental principle that the reader or interpreter seek to understand the context.
Though Judge Chapman states that she believes her colleague's ruling was “sustainable” it is difficult to either agree, or to understand because the line of questioning seems incongruent with a clear understanding of the theological values in this context, or of the real situation for Christians in Pakistan.
So, let’s seek the context - It is possible the Upper Tribunal Judges evaluation that: “there was no error in law” in the First-Tier Judgement is due to inadequate Home Office guidelines but it also seems to be from a lack of cultural information and possibly unintentional theological bias on the part of the judges.
These issues could be addressed in the guidelines for assessing Christians persecution. There is enough general angst about this harm to the cause of justice that Asher Samson requires a fresh asylum claim.
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has ordered a review on the Global Persecution of Christians because as a high-level official in the government he has seen a clear need to conduct this review.
The Home Office should also take this need seriously and seek to benefit from updating their own data and not turn a blind eye to the need expressed by the Foreign Office.
The harsh reality for Mr Samson is that he does not have time to waste waiting for the review; however, it is an accepted fact that it is long overdue.
Whether it be a clerical error, or an administrative delay – these actions are risky business for a man who wants nothing more than to be free to practice his faith and be with his family.
Asher is not in a position to return to his family members in Pakistan because he no longer has immediate family members there, therefore he has no means of being supported by family in the area upon return.
His widowed mother no longer is living permanently in Pakistan, and even if she was located there, she could not provide for his needs in the event he is unable to find work. In fact, his experience and vocation could also present a risk for her as his relative.
His immediate family members all live in the UK or NZ. Some are married to foreign nationals. Given the fact Christians are characterised in the national curriculum as spies for the west, this raises concerns and puts Asher generally in a higher risk category than other Christians.
But more to the point, all Christians in Pakistan are categorically at risk and subject to a precipitous attack due to institutional bullying or an opportunistic blasphemy allegation for simply being a “kaffir” who does not know one’s place. Very often when violence gets out of hand against Christians arises there will a claim by the assailant that the victim blasphemed of otherwise deserved their punishment after the fact.
Asher is also treated with greater attention than those simply practising Christianity, because of his heavy involvement in active Christian ministry in the country he is a more visible and desirable target for abuse.
Asher's British friends and relatives who were involved with Christian mission agencies were advised by their organisations to leave Pakistan after a risk assessment was made and they were determined to be in considerable danger after 9/11. In case there is any question about the depth of extremism in the region, Abbottabad, where all of these events took place, was to the location of Osama Bin Laden's compound where he hid until he was captured and killed.
Asher’s circumstances have changed over the course of his time in the UK and the delay in the initial First Tier Assessment was the result of Home Office procedures which were meant to create a “hostile environment” for disingenuous asylum-seekers. At one point a lawyer back in 2013 advised his to make a claim under the right to a family life, and in order to do that he dropped his asylum claim temporarily, but he revived as soon as it became necessary.
When Asher made his first plea for asylum he had and continues to have reasonable fear of harm if repatriated to Pakistan due to the death threats and assaults he endured.
From the time Mr Samson first filed to when his first-tier assessment was rendered, was a lengthy four years which has contributed to emotional hardship for his entire family. Relatives have graciously and generously welcomed him into their household.
Asher Samson is a diligent, talented, and educated individual who simply wants his human rights respected and to live his life without fear of violence for practicing his faith. Instead he has been sequestered to his relative’s home and not able to start his own household. Despite this they have welcomed him into their home and have fully supported him financially
In 2016 contributed to by BPCA and we have an interest in finding out whether our previous recommendations have made their training material are making their way into the courtroom and what professional development might be offered. Mr Samson's 2013 submission would be evaluated under outdated criteria.
It would go to follow that a significant rise in or an established pattern of violence against Christians that endangers returnees to Pakistan was evident, but has also not impacted the assessment criteria under which he filed, that this would warrant a new asylum claim that accounts for the current situation.
Not only did Mike Pompeo added Pakistan to a special watch list in December 2018, but Pakistan has topped the percentile for persecution related violence against Christians on Open Doors Word Watch List since at least 2016. In 2018 among the 11 countries rated as "extreme" on the list.
As noted earlier, Pakistan registered as 99.8% for violent acts of persecution, which makes it an undeniable a dangerous country for Christians.
Asher was advised to establish that he has been engaging in evangelising activities in the UK that have led to his continued risk; while he has restricted movement and is prohibited from working even as a volunteer. Accordingly, this does not seem to be a fair request.
Furthermore, despite being a capable and effective shift manager at a fast-food restaurant during his time in college, the isolation and repeated arrests and detentions by immigration authorities, have traumatised Mr Samson and caused him to be more introverted that he once was.
While once he might have been bolder or more vocal, his years in the UK though preferable to the alternative have left a mark on his personality. Just because he may now present as more introverted does not mean his desire or personal practice is less evangelistic.
This being said his credentials and references speak clearly to his activities in Pakistan and it is bewildering why the evidence of his participation in “evangelical activities” was not substantial enough for the judges to recognise them, or why they cannot consider them in a new asylum claim.
The rise of social media means it is much easier to find information about targeted individuals and track them down a concern that Mr Samson has expressed.
Pakistan has established a cyber-surveillance bureau and protocol to track down those disrespectful to religion and breaches to the blasphemy laws. Blasphemy accusations made against the Christians minorities because of alleged post on social media are increasing in Pakistan.
I believe his risk assessment was not properly registered in the First Tier hearing due to the policy failings and inadequate criteria employed by the Home Office.
Asher was provided further information pertinent to his case by witnesses after he was asked to provide it. Rather than it contributing to a proper assessment of the case he was then asked why he had not submitted it in the first place. Evidence and statements have continued to come in from supporters.
Fellow ministers added to the pile of statements by others attesting to the death threats and verbal abuse Asher Samson experienced in the course of his ministerial duties.
On 27/12/2018 Pastor Khadim, who had previously worked in the same area as Asher, stated that Mr Samson was being still sought by extremists, that they had inquired into his location the last time he had preached in the area and he had made the decision to cease preaching there due to the ongoing threat in order to “calm them down” (i.e. extremists).
Given this recent report by ministerial colleagues in Pakistan, in the context of the increasing violence against Christians that has characterised the past year, Pastor Samson would be understandably be disinclined to comply with a request to voluntarily repatriate or to calmly embark an aeroplane bound for Pakistan.
Weeping, verbally expressing refusal or physically not getting on a plane is not behaviour that constitutes a flight risk. This is all normal behaviour under the circumstances. Yet he has been repeatedly arrested and held at tax payer’s expense in a detention facility.
This sort of non-compliance is no more than evidence of his reasonable fear of being targeted for abuse and violence return.
Wilson Chowdhry said:
"The record shows that the home office has put up barriers for Asher Samson at every juncture of the immigration process.
"He was rejected without the decision-makers properly evaluating the evidence.
"Judge Chapman failed his right to appeal partially on the basis of a legal counsel procedural error, the very fact that a procedural error has now been found of the Home Office should therefore be an automatic right for a Judicial Review of this claim and we wait to see if today Asher's deportation will be cancelled - after all it is the only fair direction to take.
"The error by the Home Office in not providing a substantive interview is what appears to be what is behind the remainder of the Judges' chief reasons for refusal.
"The Home Office employed a line of inquiry that limits rather than improves the opportunity for decision makers to get proper information.
"Mr Samson was handled carelessly court officials and expected to quietly return to a country where he is at risk of violence.
Mr Chowdhry further said:
"Asher should be a good candidate to enter the United Kingdom. He has family here; He seeks to better himself through education; He has a worldview that is easily compatible to British life and values; and a selfless desire to help others.
“His family has supported him the entire time he has already acculturated here with a full appreciation.
"What Asher does not have is a country that values his life, where he can live near his family, and be afforded the freedoms every individual should be afforded.
"The Home Office must reflect on a policy that is so neglectful that it approves Jihadi brides but will refuse entrance to a vulnerable Pakistani Christian without giving them a full inquiry."
Asher Samson requires the intervention of the public to help politicians find their humanity and good sense.
Friends of Asher Samson have started a petition and BPCA encourages our readership to sign in support. Please be aware that any money given through Change.org is for the Petition service itself and not to the campaign that is being petitioned. Sign the Petition here.
British Pakistani Christian Association, continues to provide advocacy and humanitarian aid to Christians in Pakistan and the Pak-Christian diaspora. We cannot do it without your help please donate by clicking (here)