The First Circuit has sustained an appeal of a changed country conditions motion to reopen, filed by an Indonesian evangelical Christian.

“For aught that appears, the BIA seems to have evaluated the petitioner's motion to reopen as if he were a prototypical Indonesian Christian. The record, however, belies this assumption. In his motion to reopen, the petitioner asserted — and the government did not dispute — that the petitioner subscribes to a more particularized subset of the Christian faith: he is an evangelical Christian, for whom public proselytizing is a religious obligation. Yet, in terms of the prospect of persecution arising out of changed country conditions, the BIA wholly failed to evaluate whether and to what extent there is a meaningful distinction between Christians who practice their faith in private and evangelical Christians (such as the petitioner), for whom public proselytizing is a central tenet. So, too, the BIA neglected to consider whether country conditions had materially changed with respect to public and private reactions (including vigilante violence) toward evangelical Christians. Finally, the BIA neglected to consider whether attitudes in Indonesia had materially changed with respect to persons making public religious statements.”

“The record is replete with copious new evidence submitted by the petitioner and unavailable in 2006, which might well serve to ground a finding (or at least a reasonable inference) that country conditions have steadily deteriorated over the past twelve years. In particular, Islamic fundamentalist fervor seems to have intensified, such that evangelical Christians may now be at special risk in Indonesia. “

The court very forcefully differentiated the situation for non-Evangelical Christians from that of Evangelical Christians. “To be sure, the government tries to pigeonhole the petitioner's case as merely another link in a chain of four cases in which we have rejected claims by Indonesian Christians that country conditions have materially changed. This case, though, is readily distinguishable. None of the earlier cases involved an alien who held himself out to be an evangelical Christian. Accordingly, the religious beliefs of those aliens — and therefore their experiences with religious intolerance — were different in kind, not just in degree.”

The full text of Sihotang v. Sessions can be found here: