Afghan atheist to get asylum in Britain on religious grounds

A supervisor on the case, said: 'The decision represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position'

Emily Dugan
Monday 13 January 2014 20:51
Comments

An Afghan man is understood to have become the first atheist ever to secure asylum in Britain on religious grounds.

His case was accepted by the Home Office on the basis there was a risk he could face persecution in Afghanistan for having rejected Islam.

Although he was brought up a Muslim, since living in the UK he has gradually turned away from it and is now an atheist. The young man – who does not want to be identified for fear of being rejected by the Afghan community in Britain – fled to the UK from a conflict involving his family in Afghanistan.

He first claimed asylum in 2007 when he was just 16. The claim was rejected but he was granted discretionary leave to remain until 2013 under rules to protect unaccompanied children.

The case was taken up by Kent Law Clinic, a pro bono service provided by students and supervised by practising lawyers from the University of Kent’s Law School, alongside local solicitors and barristers. A submission to the Home Office argued that the man’s return to Afghanistan could result in a death sentence under Sharia law as an “apostate” – someone who has abandoned their religious faith – unless he remained silent about his atheist beliefs.

His fears of persecution became more acute after attending a friend’s wedding in Pakistan, according to evidence presented to the Home Office. The man says he as shocked by how people responded to him, with one telling him: “You cannot sit and eat with people who are not Muslim”. He said he believed the situation would be worse in Afghanistan.

Evidence presented to the Home Office also suggested that because daily life and culture in Afghanistan is permeated by Islam, living discreetly would be virtually impossible. The submission read: “The Applicant’s lack of religion causes him to live in fear of the prospect of being returned to a country where religion is both prevalent and dominant in society”.

Claire Splawn, a second year law student at the University of Kent, prepared the case. Ms Splawn said: “We argued that an atheist should be entitled to protection from persecution on the grounds of their belief in the same way as a religious person is protected.”

Sheona York, who supervised the case, said: “The decision represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases. The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it and we consider every application on a case by case basis.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in