CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A federal appeals court in Ohio says the Bush administration ignored evidence that Iraqi Christians face persecution in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation. It ordered immigration officials to reconsider plans to deport a watchmaker who fled Baghdad seeking religious freedom in America. The government wanted to boot Tony Dawood out of the United States, and authorities dismissed reports of persecution as "completely incredible" when they rejected his petition for refugee status.
Now, a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati unanimously says the government's contention there was no religious persecution of Christians in Iraq appears at odds with reality. It said there was evidence of bombings, killings and destruction of churches and ordered the government to reconsider the decision that turned down Dawood's plea for refugee status.
The 6th Circuit ruling could be seen as an embarrassment for the administration of President George W. Bush, whose Justice Department last week said it was moving to beef up its protection of the civil rights of Americans who believe they have suffered from religious discrimination at home.
That announcement was designed to put the government squarely on the side of Christians. However, its treatment of Dawood was questioned by the three-judge panel, who said the Justice Department filed briefs to deport the Iraqi Christian.
"We also note that both the government in its brief and the administrative agency have asserted that there is no reason to believe that Chaldean Christians have a reasonable basis to fear persecution in Iraq today. On remand, the Board should review and reconsider this argument based on current conditions in light of the conditions described in the Department of State country report on Iraq in 2004. The report states in part:
"'There were numerous incidents of violence against the Christian community this year, ranging from individual killings to intimidation. The number of Christians leaving the country rose, after bombings of 14 churches in Baghdad and Mosul and the Chaldean Bishop's palace in Mosul from August through December. The bombings left 14 dead and 340 injured as well as damaging the churches.'"
The court went on to point out there are numerous press reports of attacks on Christians in Iraq. It wondered "whether the government continues to support the position" that there is no documentation Christians have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion. The full-text of the ruling is HERE.