The Moscow Times reports on a mixed martial arts champion and neo-Nazi who fled Russia and is now seeking asylum in Norway. Vyacheslav Datsik escaped from a psychiatric facility in St. Petersburg and made his way to Norway, where he was arrested on suspicion of violating the country's law on gun ownership and having possible links to organized crime. Mr. Datsik's asylum case is pending, but apparently it is becoming more difficult for Russians to obtain asylum in Norway, and given his checkered history, Mr. Datsik might have a difficult time gaining asylum.
In the U.S., I know of two reported neo-Nazi asylum cases in the last couple years. In July 2008, Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle were convicted of publishing “race-hate” by the Leeds Crown Court in England. After receiving bail, the two men fled the UK for Los Angeles. On arrival at LAX, immigration officials took the two men--now dubbed the “heretical two”— into custody. The men filed for political asylum in the United States.
The heretical two believe that their government is unjustly curtailing their right to freedom of speech. Indeed, many European governments—in particular Germany—have made neo-Nazi activities and Holocaust denial illegal.
Claims for asylum by European neo-Nazis raise some interesting questions. For one, can a person receive asylum in the United States for hate speech that is illegal in his home country? Such speech would be legal in the United States, but can be punished by jail time in Europe. Arresting people for hate speech certainly satisfies the requirement under U.S. asylum law that a person be targeted “on account of” political opinion. Whether or not the government action against the individual rises to the level of “persecution” might be a more difficult case to make. But recently, an Immigration Judge granted asylum to some German home schoolers who faced “persecution” because they refused to send their children to public school (the DHS appeal of this decision is currently pending). If home schoolers face persecution (i.e., jail) in Germany, then perhaps neo-Nazis in Europe face persecution as well.
Whether European neo-Nazis should receive asylum also raises questions about the purpose of asylum. Our asylum laws, to some extent, reflect our values. We grant asylum to Chinese citizens who face coercive population control measures even though such measures are deemed necessary—even crucial—by the Chinese government. Nevertheless, we have decided that such government intervention into private life is so unacceptable that it is worthy of an asylum grant. Do we think that people arrested for political statements should be granted asylum? Does the imprisonment of such people rise to the level of persecution?
If these individuals can show that their treatment by their home government is persecution, it seems that they should be eligible for asylum. Whether they qualify as a matter of discretion is another matter.
As for the heretical two, their applications for asylum were denied and they declined to appeal. After removal to England, they were each convicted of crimes related to racial hatred. Mr. Sheppard received four years and ten months imprisonment, and Mr. Whittle was sentenced to two years and four months.