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Mark Schwenk secures UK asylum for Kurdish Christian from Iran

Kenworthy's Chambers | November 4, 2022

A Kurdish man fled Iran to seek asylum in the UK, fearful of persecution after he converted to Christianity in the aftermath of his dog being put down by authorities.

This case study details how Immigration Barrister Mark Schwenk helped secure UK asylum for the client, representing him at every stage and drafting all the relevant applications.

Client Story

The client was an Iranian national of Kurdish Ethnicity, raised in a traditional Sunni Islamic family in Kermanshah. He was also an animal lover and part-owner of a pet shop selling animals and pet-related goods.

His business had a sideline in breeding and selling dogs, which had to be carried out ‘underground’ because, despite not being illegal until 2021, dogs were seen as unclean and un-Islamic. The authorities discovered the pet shop’s sideline and closed the entire business down, only allowing it to reopen after the shop agreed not to sell dogs.

Then in May 2015, on his way home from the clinic where he had been getting his pet dog, Shanti, vaccinated, he was stopped by a group of men in the street. They were acting on behalf of the state. Following the identification of Shanti from a photograph they produced, the men told him that Islam prohibits keeping dogs and, right then and there, gave Shanti a lethal injection!

Devastated by the loss of his beloved Shanti, Mark’s client became disaffected with the Iranian regime and Islam in general and turned to Christianity for spiritual comfort. He found solace in speaking with a regular customer about Christianity and later attended a ‘house church’ in Iran. He decided to convert that year, along with his wife, brother, and cousin.

His converted cousin then had an argument with another cousin about religion. The next day he was late in delivering food supplies to the pet shop. They later discovered that he had been taken away by men calling him an “infidel”, concluding that the other cousin had informed on the converted cousin and that it was likely they would give up information that could lead to further family arrests.

The client made immediate arrangements to leave the country. He learned of multiple raids on his shop, his home, his converted cousin’s house, and his father’s home.

He arrived in the UK on the 3rd of March 2016 and claimed asylum the very next day due to fear of persecution in Iran as a converted Christian.


Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Barrister Mark Schwenk was instructed by Michelle Haughian of Broudie Jackson and Canter Solicitors to represent their client before the First-Tier Tribunal, The Upper Tribunal and the Court of Appeal.

The client’s initial application for asylum was rejected, so Michelle Haughian appealed. Despite accepting that he had been baptised, regularly attended services at Liverpool Cathedral, and was present at a service broadcast on BBC television show ‘Songs of Praise’, the First-tier Tribunal Judge (FTTJ) found that he was not a ‘genuine’ converted Christian and rejected the argument that these activities would put him at risk on return to Iran.

At the subsequent appeal in the Upper Tribunal, the Deputy Upper Tribunal Judge (DUTJ) found an error of law in relation to how the FTTJ dealt with the client’s Christian activities. The DUTJ questioned whether a Kurdish Christian would be forced to disclose his baptism and church attendance which would likely be met with hostility by the Iranian regime. The matter was then adjourned so a new decision could be made.

The client then became active on social media, posting frequently about the repression of Christianity by the Iranian regime.

How Kenworthy’s Chambers Helped

Mark Schwenk appealed to the Upper Tribunal on multiple grounds. One ground upon which Mark appealed was by arguing that the client would be at risk upon return to Iran because he had engaged in Christian activities in the UK. He argued that returning to Iran would be risky for the client even if the FTTJ didn’t believe his conversion to Christianity was genuine.

At a later hearing where the DUTJ reheard the appeal, Michelle Haughian prepared new evidence that illustrated the client’s new social media activities critiquing the Iranian regime’s Christian repression, putting him in increased danger should he return to Iran, with threats made to behead him! This reheard appeal was dismissed by the DUTJ, so Mark Schwenk applied to the Upper Tribunal for permission to take the case to the Court of Appeal.

The Upper Tribunal Judge (UTJ) refused the application for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal, so Mark Schwenk helped the client renew the application. This was adjourned by the Court of Appeal to await a decision in another case that centered around Christian activity in the UK being a risk for Iranians returning to Iran.

This case was headed up by fellow Kenworthy’s Immigration Barrister Craig Holmes. In that case the Tribunal accepted expert evidence which found that: “Given the effort and resources put into surveillance of ‘house church’ activity in Iran, and the belief that the house church networks are driven by foreign money…it is reasonable to conclude that Agents are also deployed to watch convert communities abroad."

The Results

At the relisted hearing the UTJ heard arguments from both sides and decided that the FTTJ had erred when she found that the Kurdish Christian was not telling the truth and decided the entire case should be reheard again.

When the rehearing took place evidence was taken from the appellant and two members of the clergy. The Home Office was still arguing that, despite being a very active Christian since shortly after he arrived in the UK, he was not a genuine Christian.

Reverend Barnes of Liverpool Cathedral detailed the Kurdish man’s role in the church; assisting with IT, their evangelism group, and serving communion. The Reverend was convinced through multiple conversations with the appellant that his declaration of faith in Jesus Christ was sincere and described him as “one of our most committed and faithful members, stretching back six years”.

Mark Schwenk added: “There comes a point when someone has been involved for so long, and their commitment so great, and they have convinced so many people of their sincerity, and their involvement so extensive, that it becomes faintly ridiculous to continue to question it for the sake of it.”

The First-tier Tribunal’s decision was declared flawed for error of law and set aside. The appeal was allowed on protection and human rights grounds with the appellant granted anonymity.

The UTJ found that the events the appellant described in Iran were true, that he is a genuine convert to Christianity, and that he would be at immediate risk of persecution upon any return to Iran. Due to his high profile within the Christian community in Liverpool and his activities on social media, it was considered likely that he has been targeted for surveillance and attracted the attention of the Iranian authorities.

The Kurdish Christian was classed as a refugee and is now free to remain in the UK and practice his faith openly.

Mark Schwenk is constantly in demand as an Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Barrister to represent clients in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber, particularly in the Upper Tribunal.

If you have an Immigration, Asylum, or Nationality case you need advice or advocacy for, call our Immigration Clerks Courtney Richards and Daniella Howarth on 0161 832 4036, email [email protected], [email protected], or fill out our contact form.