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Estonia / Administrative Law Chamber of the Supreme Court of Estonia / 3-17-1026

X vs The Police and Border Guard Board

Policy area:
Justice, freedom and security
Deciding Body type:
National Court/Tribunal
Deciding Body:
Administrative Law Chamber of the Supreme Court of Estonia
Decision date:

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.