While all eyes have been on the recent spate of street protests from Iran to Tunisia and most currently Egypt, the IAC has been faced with the task of looking at the risk on return to Iran to demonstrators in the United Kingdom in this recent country guidance case.
BA, a national of Iran, entered the UK July 2008, with his own passport and with a student visa, valid until October 2009. In June and early July 2009 he participated in five demonstrations outside the Iranian Embassy in London, following the disputed presidential election in Iran.
BA was featured for a matter of seconds in a video clip of the demonstrations, chanting anti-regime slogans. The clip was subsequently uploaded onto YouTube and therefore available on the internet.
BA’s photograph was also featured in an article about the protests in the October 2009 edition of a magazine called Bamdad e Iran, an anti-regime publication, with the Supreme Leader of Iran depicted as the devil on the cover of the same edition. Both the YouTube feature and magazine are associated with a secular nationalist group, the United Front of Iranian Nationals, UFIN, based in the Iranian community in London. BA applied for asylum in November 2009.
The IJ disbelieved or discounted BA’s account of his own arrest in 1999, his sister’s arrest in 2009 and his father’s detention in 2009. That left for consideration of BA’s own participation in demonstrations outside the Iranian Embassy (his sur place activities).
The IJ found that BA “deliberately and opportunistically attempted to establish a claim as a refugee sur place” by participating in the demonstrations. However, the IJ added “I do not however take this into account when assessing the appellant’s risk upon return”, going on to state that BA had only attended five demonstrations, with hundreds of others and was not politically active while in Iran.
On the basis of his findings about the extent to which the Iranian authorities, could, or would try to identify BA and the risk he faced, were he to be identified, given that he was not perceived as a political dissident by the Iranian authorities, the IJ dismissed his appeal.
The Upper Tier issued country guidance in relation to the risk on return to Iran, because of sur place activity in the United Kingdom. It held, inter alia, that given the large number of those who demonstrate here and the publicity which demonstrators receive, combined with the inability of the Iranian Government to monitor all returnees who have been involved in demonstrations here, regard must be had to the level of involvement here as well as any political activity in Iran prior to seeking asylum.
The following are relevant factors to be considered when assessing risk on return having regard to sur place activities: (i) the nature of the activities – such as the theme of the demonstrations, the individual’s role, the extent of participation and the publicity attracted; (ii) the identification risk, namely the surveillance of demonstrators and the regime’s capacity to identify individuals; (iii) the factors triggering inquiry/action on return – for example the profile and immigration history of the individual; (iv) the consequences of identification and (v) the identification risk on return.
In BA’s case, the Upper Tier held that there were a number of factors which would mean that the Iranian regime would particularly wish to identify him, such as his association with the secular/nationalist group, UFIN, the YouTube film and the fact that his face was clearly recognisable in UFIN’s publication, Bamdad e Iran, the cover of which would certainly be offensive to the regime.
While BA was not a leader or organiser, he was, for at least part of the time, not on the periphery either. The Upper Tier held that there was real risk both that the Iranian authorities would be able to identify BA and also that he would then face ill-treatment amounting to persecution because of his political beliefs.
Particular regard should be had to the fact that BA’s case succeeded solely on the basis of his activities in the UK, rather than any in Iran. Given the pervasiveness of the Iranian regime to monitor political dissidents, including those in the UK, this case is to be welcomed for the additional protection offered to Iranians protesting here.