Journalist Malta wanted deported wins right for fresh claim following human rights court ruling

​The European Court of Human Rights ruled against Malta and its system of asylum determination and awarded a Bangladeshi journalist denied protection €7,000 in damages

File photo
File photo

The European Court of Human Rights ruled against Malta and its system of asylum determination and awarded a Bangladeshi journalist denied protection €7,000 in damages.

The ECHR in Strasbourg said the claim by the persecuted journalist, SH, who reached Malta by boat in 2019, had revealed various failures in the way Malta’s International Protection Agency and the appeals tribunals communicate and assess their decisions.

The Court said that deporting the journalist, who reported on election irregularities in his region in 2018, would breach his human rights, and demanded that the IPA carries out a fresh assessment of his well-documented claim.

The journalist complained that the IPA had set out to reject him from the outset due to his nationality, with the case revealing deficiencies in Malta’s asylum procedure which the European Court said were “disconcerting”.

Denied asylum despite evidence

The journalist was denied asylum because the IPA deems Bangladesh to be a safe country of origin, which at law allows it to deem such claims as “manifestly unfounded”. The IPA uses an accelerated procedure in asylum claims from so-called ‘safe countries of origin’.

The applicant, SH, however submitted 40 pictures and documents, including first-hand accounts of the events that led him to flee his country of origin, as well as his press cards, photos of him receiving several journalistic prizes and awards, and newspaper articles.

His file included copies of him carrying out interviews, receiving awards, hospital discharge notes, news items of him saving a student from an attack, a picture of him in a news item relating an attack on him after the elections, his ID card and passport, and a certificate of training from the Bangladeshi Press Institute.

The journalist explained that in 2018 he made the bold choice to report against the corruption and fraud committed by the Bangladesh Awami League (AL). This provoked the AL into attacking him while he was taking pictures. After their victory, the AL vandalized his house and supporters of the AL threatened to kill him. No action was taken by the local authorities in fear of the ruling party. In these circumstances the applicant had no other choice than to leave the country in February 2019.

In December 2020, the IPA rejected his claim, insisting his submissions had been “clearly inconsistent and contradictory, clearly false or obviously improbable”; and that the authenticity of the documents could not be established since they were only copies of the original documents.

It said his claim to be a journalist was not sufficiently credible because his explanation of his articles did not reach the expected level of detail, and many of them did not cover political issues.

In 2021, furnishing new evidence to bolster his rejected claim, he presented two videos in which he was seen acting as a journalist, covering the 2018 elections and corruption in Bangladesh, and eight online newspaper articles.

But the IPA declared the evidence inadmissible.

Court decision

The European Court found SH had not benefited from legal assistance for his asylum claim until only a few days before the first decision. While the asylum interview had not been rushed or otherwise conducted in a superficial manner, the ECHR said the considerations in the decision on his case had been “disconcerting”.

The IPA also provided no reasoning as to why the evidence presented by the applicant had not been considered. “Importantly, at no point did the authorities express the view that the material was false, they limited themselves to noting that their authenticity had not been established as they were only copies.”