Seeking asylum from death sentence

A pregnant Pakistani woman could face being stoned to death if she is not given refugee status in the UK, reports Roger Pearson

The Law Lords have decided to allow a battered wife from Pakistan, who fears death by stoning if she is forced to return home, to bring her plea to stay in the UK before them.

In 1996 Syeda Shah, who lives in Canning Town in London, successfully challenged in the High Court the refusal of an Immigration Appeal Tribunal to grant her asylum in the UK.

Mr Justice Sedley ordered that the case go back to tribunal for redetermination. However, that decision was quashed by the Court of Appeal in July last year.

Shah then applied for leave to appeal to the House of Lords. The Law Lords adjourned her application to give the Home Office an opportunity to object to them hearing such an appeal, but last Thursday they gave Shad the go-ahead.

Shah was brought up in Britain but returned to Pakistan when she was 17 to get married. She and her husband had six children who are now looked after by her extended family.

She claims that she was driven out of her home in Pakistan by the violence of her husband but that when she arrived back in the UK she discovered she was pregnant.

When the case was heard at the High Court, Judge Sedley said in his ruling that Shah 'credibly feared' that if she returned to her husband's house she would be accused of conceiving the child adulterously.

She says that if that happened she could be exposed to trial under the Sharia laws, which prescribe stoning to death for adultery.

Judge Sedley commented on the fact that Home Secretary Michael Howard had, in refusing her asylum application, given as a reason the fact that no-one had been put to death for adultery in Pakistan since 1988.

The question that will be raised before the Law Lords is whether Shah is to be classed as a member of a particular social group and whether she is entitled to be classed as a refugee within Article 1A (2) of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees.