M.A. and Others v Bulgaria
The ECtHR ruled in a case concerning the intended expulsion to China of five asylum applicants based on national security grounds.
According to HUDOC's press release,
The applicants, Mr M.A., Mr. A.N., Mr Y.M., Mr S.H., and Mr A.A., are Chinese nationals who were born in 1983, 1994, 1991, 1994, and 1989 respectively. They are Uighur Muslims from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China.
The case concerned their intended expulsion on national security grounds to China, where they would allegedly be at risk of death or ill-treatment.
All the applicants arrived in Bulgaria in July 2017 from Turkey, where they had been living since leaving China on various dates between 2013 and 2015. The applicants subsequently applied for asylum but the State Refugees Agency rejected their applications in December 2017, decisions which the Haskovo Administrative Court upheld in January 2018.
The court found that the applicants had not shown that they had been persecuted in their country of origin, within the meaning of the Asylum and Refugees Act, or that they were at risk of any such persecution. The applicants had also made assumptions on the risk they faced, based on widely-known facts about the situation in the region they were from. It had not been shown that any problems the applicants had had with the authorities before leaving China had been due to their ethnicity or religion.
In parallel, the head of the State Agency for National Security in January 2018 ordered the applicants’ expulsion on national security grounds. Applications by them for judicial review of that decision were dismissed by the Supreme Administrative Court in May 2019. In decisions made available by the Government on the second, third and fourth applicants, the Supreme Administrative Court concluded that the State Agency for National Security had convincingly shown that they could pose a threat to Bulgaria’s national security owing to, among other things, links with the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which was considered to be a terrorist group.
The World Uighur Congress, the International Uighur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation, Amnesty International and several members of the European Parliament have asked Bulgaria not to remove the applicants. In January 2018 the Court indicated to the Bulgarian Government that the applicants should not be removed while the proceedings before the Court were ongoing.
Relying in particular on Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (prohibition of torture and of inhuman or degrading treatment) the applicants complained that if returned to China they would face persecution, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention and could even be executed. The ECtHR found a violation of these articles for the second, third and fourth applicant.
On the national security grounds invoked by Bulgaria, the Court stated that these considerations are irrelevant and that ‘whenever substantial grounds have been shown for believing that an individual would face a real risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to Article 3 if removed to another State, the responsibility of the Contracting State to safeguard him or her against such treatment is engaged in the event of expulsion or extradition’.
HUDOC Press Release
Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights [ECHR], M.A. and Others v Bulgaria, Application no 5115/18, ECLI:CE:ECHR:2020:0220JUD000511518, 20 February 2020. Link redirects to the English summary in the EASO Case Law Database.