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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Armenian Immigrant Wins Asylum Appeal

(CN) - The 9th Circuit revived the asylum bid of an Armenian man who claims he was persecuted because he organized opposition rallies to protest a corrupt politician and government official's violent and intimidating leadership.

Armen Baghdasaryan ran a small business at an Armenian market owned by General Hakopian, a prominent general in the Armenian Ministry of Defense. The market had hundreds of vendors, all of whom paid rent to Hakopian.

Baghdasaryan claimed Hakopian's men demanded an additional $100 a month, which he refused to pay and instead filed a complaint with a local judge.

He was allegedly arrested by the tax authority for operating his store without a license, even though no other vendor was required to have one.

He said he paid a $500 bribe to be released and get the license so he could go back to work.

He allegedly began organizing, rallying and striking with other business owners to "fight against General Hakopian's corruption." They protested the bribes, which they believed were government-sanctioned.

When Baghdasaryan began receiving threats, he stopped protesting and paid the bribes for several years, according to his petition. He eventually sent his wife and two children to the United States for safety, he said, and took up organizing again with the other merchants.

He claimed he was taken by militia men, held for 20 days and severely beaten, because government officials thought he was "defaming" and "raising his head" against General Hakopian.

Baghdasaryan entered the United States on a fraudulent visa in 2001.

An immigration judge rejected his bid for asylum, finding "very little indication" that the Armenian government's alleged harassment of him had anything to do with his political views. The Board of Immigration Appeals agreed.

But the 9th Circuit reversed, finding that Baghdasaryan had, in fact, been punished for his political opinion.

"Baghdasaryan was mistreated because of his political opinion," Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the Pasadena-based panel. "Whistle-blowing against government corruption is an expression of political opinion."

The court sent the case back to the Board of Immigration Appeals to determine whether the mistreatment Baghdasaryan suffered "rose to the level of persecution."

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