(CN) – Immigration officials should consider granting the asylum petition of an Armenian woman fighting to bring down a violent, politically connected drug dealer in her native land, the 9th Circuit ruled.
Nune Antonyan had to flee Armenia after she testified against Hovhannesyan Andranik, an alleged drug dealer with corrupt friends in the highest levels of government. Antonyan and her husband had received threats and endured “physical beatings, warnings to remain silent, and death threats from Andranik and his henchmen, as well as threats and intransigence from the government,” according to a ruling published Wednesday.
Antonyan’s troubles began when she upbraided Andranik, not knowing who he was, for cursing at her neighbor. After Andranik told her to mind her own business, Antonyan called the police, but they refused to follow up. Antonyan soon found out that Andranik was a major drug dealer who worked as an informant for the police, and that he did not appreciate her complaints. He warned her off, pushing her to the ground and kicking her. Later, he beat up her husband in the couple’s apartment.
Undeterred, Antonyan took her complaints to a national security investigator, and eventually secured Andranik’s arrest with a promise to testify against him. She did so, but he was soon released by his friends in the government and resumed his threats, the ruling states.
Fearing for her life, Antonyan fled to the United States on a visitor visa, leaving her husband and children behind in Armenia.
After she overstayed her visa, she requested asylum, claiming that if she were sent back to Armenia she would not be protected from Andranik’s wrath. While an immigration judge found Antonyan’s story credible, he denied her petition, and the Board of Immigration Appeals did the same. The board ruled that she had failed to show that her whistle-blowing activities were linked to politics, finding instead that she merely had a personal dispute with a criminal and a few corrupt police officials.
The San Francisco-based federal appeals panel reversed that finding on Wednesday, ruling that Antonyan’s petition should get another look.
“In pursuing Andranik’s prosecution, Antonyan sought more than an end to his drug-dealing and violence in her community; she also hoped to expose his crooked ties to law enforcement agencies who refused to protect the citizenry,” Judge Sidney Thomas wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel. “The record belies the government’s suggestion that Antonyan aimed at only a private criminal or a few public officials. To be sure, when she first contacted police, Antonyan did not know of Andranik’s ‘very influential protectors.’ That her initial reports stemmed from a ‘personal dispute’ does not render her later acts any less ‘political,’ however.”
Thomas added that Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) had “failed to credit evidence that [Andranik’s] motives were not exclusively ‘personal.'”
“While the BIA correctly found that ‘revenge’ motivated Andranik, significant credible evidence establishes that he also acted because Antyonyan sought to expose his corrupt relationships to the government,” Thomas wrote. “Andranik’s bribes, drug business, and work as an informant made him ‘valuable’ to the police and prosecutors, and won him protection from high-ranking officials.”