After facing a conflict with his family in 2007, an Afghan citizen, whose identity has not been revealed, fled to the United Kingdom when he was only 16 years of age. Initially, he was allowed to stay in the country until 2013 but on January 13, he was granted religious asylum in the UK because he now identifies as an atheist.
According to a BBC report, the man’s legal team believes unless he succeeds in keeping his religious preference secret, he could be persecuted and even sentenced to death as an apostate in Afghanistan under Sharia law. However, maintaining secrecy may be close to impossible because Islam permeates all aspects of daily life and culture in Afghanistan.
The team from the University of Kent’s Law School that offers legal services through its office in Kent, believes this is the first time an atheist has been granted religious asylum in the UK. The lawyers had made a submission to the Home Office under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which ensures protection against persecution based on race, nationality, religion, membership of a certain social or political group.
“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,” said Claire Splawn, the second-year law student who prepared the case under the supervision of solicitor Sheona York. York said that the decision goes on to show that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful philosophical position.
While the British Humanist Association called the case a first of its kind, to be based on non-religious beliefs, the Home Office 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.”
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