(CN) - A man who was allegedly beaten by Algerian police for his suspected ties to a terrorist group can pursue his bid for U.S. asylum, the 6th Circuit ruled.
Algerian police allegedly suspected Mohamed Haider of being affiliated with the anti-government terrorist group GIA, or Armed Islamic Group, which had unsuccessfully tried to recruit him.
Despite refusing to join the militant group, Haider said he was repeatedly stopped by police and accused of working with terrorists. Police allegedly sexually and physically abused him in public and detained him for interrogations. Haider said they stole his clothes, beat him with a gun and punched him repeatedly.
The Cincinnati-based court ruled that a suspicion of political affiliation is a protected ground upon which to seek asylum. The court overturned an immigration judge's decision that Haider was ineligible for withholding of removal. The judge had ruled that the alleged abuse amounted to harassment, not torture, and questioned the credibility of Haider's account of the police beatings.
But Judge Karen Moore said the immigration judge "failed to grasp the aggregate significance of Haider's encounters with the police" when the judge characterized it as mere harassment.
"These abuses cannot be characterized as isolated incidents or mere verbal harassment, and the officers' questions about the GIA make clear that they specifically targeted him," Moore wrote.
"Haider established a protected ground based on imputed political opinion."
But neither the alleged police abuse nor the mental suffering imposed by the GIA were severe enough to constitute torture, the court ruled, affirming the immigration judge's denial of relief under the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
The 6th Circuit remanded the case to the Board of Immigration Appeals to determine the credibility of Haider's testimony.
Dissenting Judge Danny Boggs said Haider could not seek asylum based on persecution for his political opinion.
"[V]ictimization by arbitrary thuggishness is decidedly not a protected ground," Boggs wrote. "There is simply no evidence that the police abused him on account of his imputed political opinion, as opposed to their belief that he was affiliated with a group that - regardless of its politics - engaged in the murder of civilians in a quest for power."