The European Court of Human Rights has denied an Iranian Christian convert’s application for asylum in Germany.
Hassan*, a 44-year-old cabinetmaker, applied for asylum in 2018. He testified before the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees that he had learned about Christianity in Iran through his wife’s brother.
“My wife’s brother had become a different person by becoming a Christian,” Hassan said. “ … One day my brother-in-law said to me and my wife that he had good news—there is a treasure, there is a living God, Jesus Christ, and we are His children and not His slaves. … He said there is a free salvation available.”
Hassan and his wife made the decision to accept God’s free gift of salvation and converted to Christianity. They knew it was risky—Hassan’s brother-in-law was imprisoned for being a part of a house church and was eventually killed in prison for his faith. But they chose to follow Christ no matter the risk.
When Iranian security forces discovered that Hassan and his wife had become Christians, they raided their house, confiscating books, a computer, their passports and their Bible.
Hassan and his family realized that they were no longer safe in the Muslim-majority country, so they fled to Turkey and eventually moved to Germany.
“In Germany, I share the Gospel [and] organize prayer circles here in [our] accommodation,” Hassan said. “I want to be a good example—to win others to faith in Jesus Christ. My greatest goal would be for my children to be able to find Christ in freedom and to do good.”
Hassan’s asylum application was initially rejected by German authorities, but he appealed to the Greifswald Administrative Court. The court dismissed his case, asserting that it was “not particularly likely” that a Muslim would decide to become a Christian after his brother-in-law had been tortured and killed for his Christian faith.
Hassan then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. This week, the court announced it would not hear Hassan’s case.
Without asylum, Hassan and his family will likely be deported back to Iran.
Iran is ranked No. 9 on the World Watch List, which ranks the top 50 countries where it’s most difficult to follow Jesus.
“Iran is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for Christians, and converts are particularly at risk,” said Lidia Rieder, legal officer at ADF International. “In the last year, religious persecution has greatly worsened. So-called ‘religious deviants’ can be given prison sentences, national security charges are continuously used to target religious minorities. The courts in Germany must take this into account when processing asylum applications.”
Hassan’s asylum application experience isn’t uncommon, according to some German pastors.
Gottfried Martens, pastor of a Lutheran church in the Steglitz neighborhood of Berlin, explained that judges for the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees determine the sincerity of conversion and the severity of potential threats to asylum seekers’ lives. But the criteria to grant asylum isn’t the same across the board, Martens said, and the legal precedent for these examinations isn’t clear.
“It’s like a lottery. If you’re in Potsdam, you stand a better chance than in Berlin. In Berlin, you stand a better chance than in Düsseldorf. In Hessen, you’re almost guaranteed protection. It just depends on which person you get.”
Markus Rode, head of Open Doors Germany, suggested that judges may not have the religious literacy necessary to evaluate spiritual transformation.
“The change of belief towards Jesus Christ is a spiritual process. And as such, it can only be assessed by people who have themselves accepted Jesus Christ in faith,” he said.