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By Jay Sekulow1317603620000

 

Last summer, we, along with our European affiliate, the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), asked a federal district court in Pennsylvania to protect the human rights of a Coptic Christian from Egypt who would likely face torture and possible death if returned to his native country. The ACLJ and the ECLJ (which has special consultative status with the United Nations) filed an amicus curiae brief with the district court on behalf of Sameh Sami S. Khouzam.

 

In our brief filed on Mr. Khouzams behalf, we noted that [t]here is a consensus among international monitoring agencies that the Egyptian government routinely uses torture, especially as a method of law enforcement. Moreover, Coptic Christians face widespread persecution in Egypt, including kidnappings and forced conversions. Citing the U.S. Copts Association, the brief explained the imminent danger Mr. Khouzam would face if deported to Egypt: Despite international disapproval, the Egyptian government continues to deny Copts basic rights such as judicial and police protection from persecution, freedom of religious expression and worship, and equal opportunity employment. As a result, millions of Coptic Christians have immigrated to Western countries to flee persecution in Egypt.

 

Yesterday, Judge Vanaskie, of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, vacated the decision of the Secretary of Homeland Security to terminate Mr. Khouzams court-ordered deferral of removal.  Mr. Khouzam has been returned to his previous status, remaining in the United States under a deferral of removal, and should be released within the next several days from the federal facility that has been holding him for the last seven months.

 

Mr. Khouzam had previously been granted deferral of removal because, as an Immigration Judge had previously found, the evidence is overwhelming that [Khouzam] will more likely than not be subjected to torture by a responsible Egyptian government official who will breach his duty and engage in the torture of [Khouzam], or at the least, will abdicate such duty by acquiescing in such torture . . . . The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed that decision in 2000; after a series of appeals, in 2004, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that Mr. Khouzam could not be removed under a United Nations treaty that the United States has signed (together with numerous other countries), the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Although the Second Circuit affirmed that Mr. Khouzam was not eligible for asylum or withholding of removal, the court found that Mr. Khouzam should be granted deferral of removal under the CAT, concluding that Khouzam will more likely than not be tortured if he is deported to Egypt.

 

Mr. Khouzam had been peacefully residing in the United States, practicing his Christian faith, when he was taken into custody on May 29, 2007 while reporting as required at the [Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement] facility in York [Pennsylvania]. Mr. Khouzams deferral of removal had been terminated four months earlier based on diplomatic assurances from the Government of Egypt that he would not be tortured. Mr. Khouzams attorneys immediately filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus, and we filed an amicus brief in support of Mr. Khouzams petition.

 

As Judge Vanaskie noted in his decision, President Bush has described the right to be free from torture as an inalienable human right.  The court explained that, [f]reedom from torture falls squarely within the concept of liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment.  Notably, the court found that the fundamental right to freedom from torture is surely protected by the Fifth Amendment regardless of a persons immigration status.

 

We applaud the courts decision in this case a well-reasoned decision that acknowledges and protects human rights and religious freedoms for people of faith, including the freedom to avoid deportation to countries where religious persecution is rampant. On the same day that Judge Vanaskie issued the courts opinion, the government filed its Notice of Appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and Judge Vanaskie has granted a five-day stay of Mr. Khouzams release pending action on the case by the Third Circuit.

 

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