An Afghan asylum seeker who become an atheist has been granted leave to remain in Britain because he would face ‘religious’ persecution for abandoning Islam.
By John Bingham / The Telegraph
A young Afghan man who became an atheist after coming to Britain has been granted asylum on the grounds that the threat to his life for having no faith would amount to “religious” persecution.
In what is thought to be the first case of its kind in the UK, the Home Office accepted that sending the man back to his country of birth could put him in danger specifically because of his lack of religious beliefs.
The man, who is not being named for safety reasons, was born a Muslim but abandoned his faith after coming to the UK as a teenager around five years ago.
Apostasy – or abandoning the faith – can be punished with the death penalty under Afghan law.
Central to his case to the Home Office was the example of Abdul Rahman an Afghan man who was put on trial and faced death in 2006 for converting to Christianity.
He was released and given asylum in Italy only after the intervention of the Afghan President Hamid Karzi who had come under intense international pressure over the case.
In the latest case the man’s lawyers argued that as someone of no religious faith he could face even greater danger in Afghanistan than a member of a minority religion such as Christianity.
It comes just weeks after Supreme Court effectively recognised Scientology as a religion in a landmark judgment which established that it is not necessary to worship a god or gods to constitute a religion.
In the asylum case lawyers did not have to establish atheism as a “religion” because it was clear that any risk he faced would be of a religious nature.
But his solicitor, Sheona York, said it nonetheless underlined the significance of atheism as a distinct “philosophical position”.
The man’s case to the Home Office was prepared by Claire Splawn, a second year law student at the University of Kent, under the supervision of Ms York, through the Kent Law Clinic, a partnership between students, academics and solicitors and local lawyers.
She 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 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.”
In the submission they explained that having lived in Britain for several years and adopted western customs and dress, the young man feared that even were he to disguise his atheism in Afghanistan it would quickly be discovered.
It says that the application was made on the basis that: “As an atheist, if returned to Afghanistan, he will face persecution for a Convention reason, namely (lack of) religion; or alternatively that he faces a substantial risk of serious harm on account of his lack of religious beliefs”
It adds: “Afghanistan is a Muslim dominated country where religion underpins every aspect of everyday life.
“Furthermore, in Afghanistan, and even in Kabul, life is lived in such a way that everyone is connected with everyone else.
“There is no sense of privacy and his lack of beliefs would become very quickly known. “It is clear hat the applicant fears for his life in Afghanistan where he is not only non-Muslim but does not in fact believe in any religion.”
It goes on to explain how the man had recently made a visit to another predominantly Muslim country, to visit friends, and had been “shocked” by how his lack of belief made him stand out.
“He was shocked by how everyone talked as if life meant nothing to them,” it says.
“People said ‘this is not the only world’ and that you have to believe. People said ‘you cannot sit and eat with people who are not Muslim’.
“He noticed that to the people he met, this life meant nothing to them and all their expectations were focused on the other world, life after death.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “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.”