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Denied US asylum, an Eritrean prison guard appeals to high court

He says he was forced to stand guard as others were tortured and killed.

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US immigration law bars the granting of asylum to any foreign national involved in the persecution of others overseas. But what if the asylum seeker was coerced into assisting in abuses or atrocities?

On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court takes up the case of Daniel Negusie, who served for four years as a guard at a military prison in Eritrea where detainees were tortured and killed.

Mr. Negusie says he was forced under threat of death to act as a prison guard, and that although he witnessed torture, he never personally beat or killed anyone.

Two of his friends were killed trying to escape the prison, he says. He eventually fled and stowed away on a cargo ship to the US.

But Negusie's asylum application was denied because, officials said, US law makes no allowance for those who were coerced into assisting acts of persecution.

The law prohibits granting asylum to "any person who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."

Negusie's lawyers say Congress intended to exclude only those who voluntarily participate in persecution. "The threat of being forced to engage in persecution of others itself constitutes persecution," says Washington lawyer Andrew Pincus in Negusie's brief to the court.


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