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Shtaro v. Gonzales

January 24, 2006

VIOLETA SHTARO, PETITIONER,
v.
ALBERTO R. GONZALES, RESPONDENT.



On Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals No. A 95 403 012.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge

ARGUED AUGUST 3, 2005

Before KANNE, WOOD, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

Albanian citizen Violeta Shtaro seeks review of the Board of Immigration Appeals' ("BIA") removal order summarily affirming the Immigration Judge's ("IJ") decision to deny her eligibility for asylum on the ground that her testimony was not credible. We conclude that the IJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence and therefore grant Shtaro's petition.

I.

Shtaro entered the United States in March 2001 under a Slovenian passport in someone else's name. A year later she petitioned for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture, claiming that she was persecuted on account of her political opinion. The INS denied her petition, and she was issued a Notice to Appear charging her with removability for entering the country without valid documentation. See INA § 237(a)(1)(A), 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(1)(A).

At her hearing before the IJ, Shtaro testified that she had participated in local politics in the city of Vlora for a number of years. She became an "active supporter" of the Democratic Party in 1992 while still a student, and joined the Party officially in 1995. In February 2000, she was chosen by the Party's leadership to serve as secretary to the Party Chairman. In that position her duties included handling correspondence for the Chairman, helping to prepare his speeches, and reading party platforms aloud for television and radio broadcasts.

Shtaro testified that her troubles began in May 2000, when she was approached by two members of the civil police. They told her that she was going to be a polling commissioner for the October local elections and offered her a bribe of $5,000 to certify the results in favor of the Socialist Party. Shtaro refused the offer and reported the incident to the Democratic Party Chairman, but she continued to receive anonymous letters threatening her with "hard days" if she did not change her mind.

Later that month, shortly before a Democratic Party rally that she helped to organize, Shtaro received an anonymous letter warning her to "disappear from the city" if she "want[ed] to live." On the evening of the rally itself, her home was burglarized; among the items stolen were cash, jewelry, and a number of "personal documents," including wedding photographs. Shtaro and her husband did not report the burglary because they believed the police were involved and feared reprisal. Their decision to "stay quiet" was reinforced on the following day when she heard that the Socialists had killed a "friend" of hers, a journalist "with democratic belie[f]s."

Shtaro testified that she continued to work for the Democratic Party, and was in fact selected as one of the polling commissioners for the October elections. During the voting, she noticed a number of "irregularities," which she reported to the Democratic Party Chairman. She refused to certify the tainted election results, even though a police officer monitoring the polling place warned her that the refusal would endanger her life.

When the news broke that the Socialist Party had prevailed in the election, "supporters of the Democratic Party" took to the streets in protest, but they were admonished by Party leadership to do so peacefully. Ten days later, according to Shtaro, she received another letter warning her to leave the city; the arrival of this letter coincided with the explosion of a bomb in front of her husband's grocery store. Shtaro then went to stay with an uncle in a small village to distance herself from the political furor in Vlora. She returned to Vlora at Christmastime, hoping that "the story would have been forgotten."

Apparently, it was not. Shtaro testified that she returned to work as secretary for the Democratic Party Chairman in January 2001. On March 2, 2001, on her way home from work, she was abducted by three armed men, who showed her police IDs and took her to the police station where they verbally abused and beat her. At that time, Shtaro was several months pregnant. A few hours later, the police told her they would bring her home, but Shtaro claimed that they took her instead into the Soda Forest (where her journalist-friend had been killed) and took turns raping her. When they finally did take her home, they warned her not to talk with any journalists or she would "really see what it means to suffer."

Shtaro claimed that she knew she was being punished for her refusal to certify the election returns because during her detention the police made comments such as, "do you see, you bitch, because you didn't sign, that's what is happening," and "[y]ou bitch would rather be massacred than sign a piece of paper!" She also reported that during the drive to the Soda Forest, one of the men opened a folder and showed her the wedding pictures that had been stolen from her home the previous May. He told her that he would keep the pictures "to look at . . . every time I miss you."

In support of her testimony, Shtaro submitted a number of documents, including letters from both the former and the current Chairman of the Democratic Party, confirming her employment with the Party; copies of her employment contracts; two affidavits from the doctor who treated her after she was beaten and raped; and a police report purporting to certify that she had been ...


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