Afghan Atheist Granted UK Asylum On The Grounds His Lack Of Religion Could Result In A Death Sentence

The man argued he risked being sentenced to death if he returned to Kabul, Afghanistan (file picture)
The man argued he risked being sentenced to death if he returned to Kabul, Afghanistan (file picture)
Naftali Hilger via Getty Images

An Afghan citizen has been granted UK asylum on religious grounds – in what is believed to be the first case of its kind.

The man fled Kabul alone in 2007 at the age of 16 and had been permitted to stay in the UK until 2013.

He had been brought up a Muslim but turned to atheism shortly after arriving in the country.

Last year his case was submitted to the Home Office under the 1951 Refugee Convention on the basis he would face persecution on the grounds of religion – or in this case his lack of religious beliefs - if he returned to Afghanistan.

All legal support in the case was provided for free by Kent Law Clinic, which is a pro bono service provided by students and supervised by qualified practising lawyers from the University of Kent’s Law School, with help from local solicitors and barristers.

The case involved the Law Clinic lodging an extensive written submission with the Home Office, drawing on recent Supreme Court decisions, and including detailed evidence that a return to Afghanistan by the client could result in a death sentence under Sharia law as an "apostate" - unless he remained discreet about his atheist beliefs.

The case also stated living discreetly in an Islamic country would be virtually impossible.

A document submitted to the Home Office adds: “The Applicant states that he has had no religion for a long time. There was a time since he arrived in the UK that he attended church and tried to see if Christianity had any meaning for him. However, after a while he realised that it did not and that he had no religious beliefs.

Claire Splawn, a second year law student at the University of Kent, prepared the case under the supervision of Clinic Solicitor, Sheona York.

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.”

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.”

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