Estonia / Administrative Law Chamber of the Supreme Court of Estonia / 3-17-1026 X vs The Police and Border Guard Board

Key facts of the case:

X applied for international protection in Estonia, stating that his life and security is in danger as he was believed to belong to an Islamic organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) illegal and punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty in Uzbekistan and, therefore, he is wanted by the Uzbekistan security forces. The Police and Border Guard Board (PBGB) denied the application as ill-founded and found that the applicant does not meet the refugee status. It considered the accusation to be realistic based on the information found in the phone of the applicant. However, the crime he was accused of is an ordinary crime; after his arrest in Uzbekistan, the security forces had freed him, and, therefore, he was not persecuted on the basis of his religion. The PBGB further stated that the applicant could not be granted the international protection as he endangers the Estonian security and public order.

Tallinn Administrative Court annulled the decision of the PBGB and obliged the PBGB to review the application as the PBGB had not established either the risk of religious persecution nor the reasons for believing that the applicant posed a danger to the Estonian security and public order. The Tallinn Circuit court annulled the decision of the administrative court and found that both the EU law and the Geneva convention allow denying international protection for a person who meets the standards of international protection but is deemed a danger to the national public order. The Administrative Law Chamber of the Supreme Court agreed with the argumentation of the Circuit Court.

Key legal question raised by the Court:

  1. What are the legal criteria for granting international protection? 
    • What are the preconditions for granting international protection?
    • What circumstances preclude recognition as a refugee?
    • How to interpret the Act on Granting International Protection to Aliens together with relevant EU law and the Geneva Convention?
  2. Whether the courts have to wait for the interpretation of the Directive 2011/95/EU by the European Court of Justice?
  3. What evidence is admissible in international protection cases?

Outcome of the case:

Both the Circuit Court and the Supreme Court denied the application and found that the Police and Border Guard Board had rightly denied the applicant the refugee status. The Chamber agreed that the complainant's problems with the day-to-day practice of Islam are not what they consider to be persecution. Any breach or violation of religious freedom that is not of sufficient difficulty and does not significantly affect a person cannot yet be considered persecution.

The court found that a foreigner is recognised as a refugee if he has a legitimate reason to fear persecution, but at least one of the five reasons must be present: race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or belonging to a social group," the College noted. The allegations made in Uzbekistan were based on the applicant's involvement in the Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir banned in Uzbekistan. Although the applicant denied such an attachment, the Chamber agreed with the courts that the applicant was at least in favour of the views of that organisation. The Supreme Court found that a state can punish "ordinary" offences and use its legitimate right to protect its constitutional and public order and security. It further noted that Hizb ut-Tahrir is a movement that is also banned in some EU Member States as its objectives conflict with the values of the Human Rights, including the peaceful resolution of international conflicts and the holiness of human life. The measures that the organisation plans to use for power and change national legal and constitutional arrangements is not in line with democratic principles.

The Supreme Court stressed that the purpose of granting refugee status or additional protection is to ensure the protection of all human dignity underlying the fundamental rights of those who have a genuine need for international protection. It should not be an opportunity for those who have violated national law and want to escape the effects of the national law. The latter also applies in the cases where the violation relates to allegedly religious or political purposes.

Paragraphs referring to EU Charter: 

21. A person who does not qualify as a refugee may, however, be entitled to additional protection. The beneficiary of subsidiary protection is an alien who does not qualify as a refugee and with regard to whom no circumstance exists precluding recognition for subsidiary protection and in relation to whom there are substantial grounds for believing (directive: "mõjuv põhjus arvata" (English “substantial grounds for believing”, German “stichhaltige Gründe für die Annahme”, French “des motifs sérieux et avérés de croire”)) that his return or expulsion from Estonia to his country of origin could bring a real risk (the directive: "reaalse ohu" (English “real risk”, German “tatsächlich Gefahr”, French “risque réel")), including the use of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Section 4 (3) (2) of the AGIPA, Directive 2011/95/EU Art 2 point f, art 15). The torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of the applicant in the country of origin is one of the major types of serious harm within the meaning of Article 15 (b) of Directive 2011/95/EU. The interpretation of this type of serious harm must take into account Art. 19 (2) of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, according to which no one should be returned to a country where there is a serious risk that he would be subjected to torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Article 3 of the ECHR (C-465 / 07, Elgafaji, para. 28; C-542/13, M'Bodj, para. 38).

Paragraphs referring to EU Charter (original language): 

21. Inimesel, kes ei kvalifitseeru pagulaseks, võib siiski olla õigus saada täiendavat kaitset. Täiendava kaitse saaja on välismaalane, kes ei kvalifitseeru pagulaseks ja kelle suhtes ei esine täiendava kaitse andmist välistavat asjaolu ja kelle suhtes on alust arvata (direktiiv: „mõjuv põhjus arvata“ (ingl.k. substantial grounds for believing, sks.k. stichhaltige Gründe für die Annahme, pr.k. des motifs sérieux et avérés de croire)), et tema Eestist tagasi- või väljasaatmine päritoluriiki võib talle nimetatud riigis kaasa tuua tõsise ohu (direktiiv: „reaalse ohu“ (ingl.k. real risk, sks.k. tatsächlich Gefahr, pr.k. un risque réel)), sealhulgas tema piinamise või tema suhtes ebainimlike või inimväärikust alandavate kohtlemis- või karistamisviiside kasutamise (VRKS § 4 lg 3 p 2, direktiivi 2011/95/EL art 2 p f, art 15). Taotleja piinamine või ebainimlik või väärikust alandav kohtlemine või karistamine päritoluriigis on üheks suure kahju liigiks direktiivi 2011/95/EL art 15 p b mõttes. Kõnealuse suure kahju liigi tõlgendamisel tuleb silmas pidada EL põhiõiguste harta art 19 lg-t 2, mille kohaselt ei tohi kedagi saata tagasi riiki, kus teda tõsiselt ohustab ebainimlik või alandav kohtlemine või karistamine, ja ka sarnasesisulist EIÕK art-t 3 (C-465/07, Elgafaji, p 28; C-542/13, M`Bodj, p 38).

Deciding body (original language): 
Riigikohtu halduskolleegim