Historic moment as UK grants first atheist asylum decision

The decision suggests it is impossible to be an atheist in Afghanistan
The decision suggests it is impossible to be an atheist in Afghanistan
Ian Dunt By

An Afghan man has been granted asylum in Britain on the basis of his atheism, in what is thought to be the first decision of its kind. 

The Home Office accepted that the man's religious beliefs could result in a death sentence under sharia law.

His only option would have been to hide his convictions, which would be nearly impossible due to the way Islam permeates almost every aspect of daily life and culture in Afghanistan.

"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," second-year law student Claire Splawn, who prepared the case under the supervision of University of Kent Law School solicitor Sheona York, said.


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

The man came to Britain in 2007 when he was 16 to escape a conflict involving his family, and was due to return in 2013.

He was brought up a Muslim but became an atheist during his time in the UK.

The asylum appeal was made under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which aims to protect people from persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

"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," Andrew Copson chief executive of the British Humanist Association said.

"It is great to see Britain showing a lead in defending the human rights of the non-religious in the same way.

"Increasingly in the last two years our Foreign Office is speaking up for the rights of non-religious people abroad - to now see the Home Office extending the UK's protection to non-religious refugees within our borders is something we can all be proud of."

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