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9th Circuit Reverses Asylum Denial of Chinese Citizen Tortured for Protesting Government Demolition

In June 2009, Xinbing Song was notified by his local government in Hunan province that a building in which he owned a property would be demolished to make way for new development. Unhappy with the meager compensation the government offered, Song organized a protest involving over 100 residents and neighbors and blocked the entrance to a government building. Government officials confronted him, but he refused to disband the protestors. He subsequently hung a banner stating that he would rather die than give up his property, and he began to occupy one of the building's emptied apartments.

In response to Song's actions, the police jailed and tortured him. He was beaten for three days and then the police encouraged his cell mates to beat him. Officers forced him to spend an entire night in a squatting position. When he refused to confess to "subverting the government," he was beaten into unconsciousness with electric batons. His family paid either a fine or a bribe (worth substantially more than the compensation offered for the property) to secure his release, and he fled to the United States.

In immigration proceedings, the Immigration Judge (IJ) denied his asylum application, stating that eminent domain is not "political in nature." The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) upheld the decision, asserting that Song's actions "were motivated by a desire for increased compensation for his property, not by political views."

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed. The court noted that eminent domain disputes are the principal cause of civil unrest in China and that millions of Chinese have been the victim of such forced relocations. It also noted that "sit-in" demonstrations, such as the one Song engaged in when he occupied the empty building to prevent its demolition, commonly turn violent and result in the resident's suicide or death.

Importantly, the court noted that the asylum applicant's motivation for his actions is not what makes the actions "political." Rather, the question is whether the persecutor believes the applicant's opinions were political. In this case, multiple statements from government officials proved they tortured him because they believed his views and actions were "anti-government."

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