(CN) – An Ethiopian who threw rocks at police during anti-government protests might be entitled to U.S. asylum if he can prove that his rock-throwing amounted to a political crime, the 6th Circuit ruled.
Biniam Berhane claims he threw rocks at police during at least 20 anti-government demonstrations in 2005 after Ethiopia held contested parliamentary elections.
Berhane and his brother allegedly joined a prominent government opposition group, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy. During the demonstrations, police opened fire on demonstrators who were throwing rocks and who may have had machetes and grenades.
In March 2006, Berhane illegally entered the United States through Mexico. When the Department of Homeland Security caught up with him, it ordered him to appear at a removal proceeding.
Berhane filed for asylum on the basis of political opinion, claiming he would be harmed if sent back to Ethiopia due to his prior involvement in the coalition.
The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) rejected Berhane’s argument, concluding that he had committed a “serious nonpolitical crime” by throwing rocks at police.
But a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Cincinnati said part of the board’s opinion “raises more questions than it answers.”
“Although the government acknowledged at oral argument that not all rock throwing amounts to a ‘serious nonpolitical crime,’ the Board’s fleeting assessment of Berhane’s situation offers little explanation for why he falls on the wrong side of the rock-throwing line,” Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton wrote.
The board improperly denied Berhane’s asylum petition, and his theory of self-defense might diminish the criminal nature of his actions, the panel concluded.
“Berhane’s rock-throwing was not egregious, may not even have been criminal at times, and was thoroughly political,” Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in a concurring opinion. “At the very least, the BIA’s failure to consider fully the context of Berhane’s acts constitutes legal error.”
The panel vacated the board’s decision and remanded.