UK grants asylum to Afghan atheist

In a case that is believed to be the first of its kind, the UK has given persecution based asylum to an atheist wishing to escape his religious native country.

The client, who has not been named, was raised as a Muslim but began to turn to atheism after he arrived in the UK from Afghanistan at age 16.

He was provided free legal services by the Kent Law Clinic based at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Legal students provided pro-bono representation while being supervised by the clinic's fully qualified lawyers.

Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, asylum should be granted if the claimant has legitimate fears of persecution upon return to his home country. Under Sharia law, an apostate – someone who has turned away from their religious belief – can be sentenced to death.

The Afghan state is fighting against such moves but with many seeking to enforce the harsh punishment, the claimant's life would be in danger unless he is extremely discreet about his atheism.

Detailed evidence showed that because religion was such an intrinsic part of everyday life in Afghanistan, living discreetly with such a lack of belief would be extremely difficult.

Speaking to the Scotsman on the case were Claire Splawn, a second year law student at the University of Kent, and Clinic Solicitor Sheona York, who supervised the preparation of the case.

Miss 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."

Ms York added: "We are absolutely delighted for our client. We also want to welcome the prompt and positive response of the Home Office. We believe that this is the first time that a person has been granted asylum in this country on the basis of their atheism.

"The decision represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position."

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said: "Freedom of belief for humanists, atheists and other non-religious people is as important as freedom of belief for the religious, but it is too often neglected by Western governments who focus too narrowly on the rights of Christians abroad, as we have seen recently."

A Home Office spokeswoman 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."

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