The decision

AI (Jehovah’s Witness – risk if “committed”) Eritrea [2004] UKIAT 00147


Date of Hearing : 12 March 2004
Date Determination notified:
3 June 2004


Dr H H Storey (Chairman)
Mr P Rogers, JP
Mr G F Sandal



Secretary of State for the Home Department

Mr J. McNally of Counsel, instructed by White Rylands Solicitors for the claimant, Mr P. Deller, Senior Home Office Presenting Officer, for the respondent.

1. The appellant is a national of Eritrea. He appeals against a determination of an Adjudicator, Mr A.R. Lawrence, dismissing is appeal against the decision refusing to grant leave to enter on asylum grounds.

2. Despite some misgivings, the Adjudicator accepted that the appellant has been a Jehovah's Witness since 1971. The Adjudicator did not accept, however, the appellant's claim that he left Ethiopia because the authorities were looking to deport him. The grounds of appeal challenged this assessment but we do not find them persuasive. In our view the Adjudicator gave sound reasons for concluding that the appellant's account was not credible. However, since there was no intention to remove the appellant to Ethiopia, this dimension of his appeal is in our view, largely irrelevant, particularly given that on the appellant's own account he was not a national of Ethiopia and so would not face refoulement from Eritrea to Ethiopia.

3. The Vice President who granted leave specifically rejected the appellant's claim to be stateless. He considered in the light of the Court of Appeal judgment in Tecle [2002] EWCA Civ 358 that he was a national of Eritrea. We consider this conclusion was entirely correct: certainly the appellant failed to show that he would be unable to meet the preconditions set by Eritrean authorities for those who are entitled to Eritrean nationality by virtue of having an Eritrean father. We follow the Tribunal guidance set out in the case of [2003] UKIAT 00016 L (Ethiopia).

4. The Adjudicator also found that the appellant in this case would not be liable for military service because his age made him ineligible. Once again, there is no valid challenge to this finding.

5. Essentially, therefore, the appellant's appeal stands or falls with his contention that he would face real risk on return by virtue of being a Jehovah's Witness.

6. Mr McNally’s submissions in this regard were twofold. Firstly, he argued that simply by virtue of being a Jehovah's Witness per se the appellant would face a real risk of serious harm. Secondly, he submitted that even if not all Jehovah's Witnesses in Eritrea would face a real risk of serious harm, the appellant would, in light of the fact that he was a committed Jehovah's Witness, face such a real risk.

7. In relation to the latter submission, we are not persuaded that there was any error in the Adjudicator’s rejection of the appellant's claim to be a committed and practising Jehovah's Witness. The Adjudicator stated:

‘... although I find that he was baptised as a Jehovah's Witness in 1971. I am not satisfied that he did practise his religion in Ethiopia or Eritrea and find that his association with the Jehovah's Witnesses in the United Kingdom is intended to bolster the chances of success of his claim to asylum.’

8. Essentially this assessment of the Adjudicator flowed from his adverse findings in relation to the appellant's claims about his past experiences in Ethiopia and his experiences in the UK. As we have already noted, these were findings supported by entirely sustainable reasons. Mr McNally contended that the Adjudicator was wrong to discount the significance of the appellant's involvement with Jehovah's Witnesses’ congregations in the UK. He observed that the Adjudicator had evidence from witnesses attesting to the extent and profundity of his faith. This evidence, he reiterated, was unchallenged. However, the Adjudicator at paragraph 27 took careful note of the evidence of these two witnesses, both of whom confirmed they did not know the appellant before they met him in the UK three and a half years ago. He further assessed the significance of letters from Mr Gordon Murray of the London Holloway Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, the London Amharic Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and from the Mekanissa Congregation in Ethiopia. It is true that the Adjudicator failed to make specific findings in respect of the witnesses and these written items of evidence. But, in the context of his assessment of the evidence as a whole, his conclusion that they did not demonstrate that the appellant was a committed Jehovah's Witness was entirely sustainable.

9. We have considered further evidence submitted since the Adjudicator heard the appeal, including the letter from Mr Gordon Murray seeking to clarify his earlier letter and the basis for writing it. However, we do not find that its contents are sufficient to warrant a different view being taken by the Adjudicator of the appellant's strength of commitment to the Jehovah's Witness faith.

10. Accordingly all that can be accepted in relation to this appellant is that he was a baptised Jehovah's Witness. Given that since his 1971 baptism he had failed to practise his religion either in Ethiopia or Eritrea, the Adjudicator was entitled to conclude he would not practise his religion upon return to Eritrea.

11. On the basis of the Adjudicator’s findings, which we consider sustainable, it does not seem to us that Mr McNally’s submissions relating to the situation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Eritrea are pertinent.

12. We are prepared to accept, although we make no definitive finding in respect of it, that as a result of a recent deterioration in the conditions in which the Jehovah's Witness community in Eritrea find themselves, members who live as part of that community or who would be perceived as being Jehovah's Witnesses face persecution.

13. What we do not accept, however, is that this appellant would be perceived as a member of this community or that he would be a committed adherent who chose to live with members of that community. Given that he was someone who on his own account had not stayed with other Jehovah's Witnesses when he previously visited Eritrea, there is no sound basis for considering that he would be perceived as a Jehovah's Witness or that his being a Jehovah's Witness would impact on his living situation in Eritrea.