ENGLAND — For the first time in the nation’s history, a person has been granted asylum in the UK on the basis of their non-religious beliefs.
The man, an Afghan citizen who requested to remain anonymous, was granted protection by the UK as a refugee because he is an atheist.
He came to the UK with his family in 2007 at the age of 16 after a conflict that involved his family. He was allowed to remain the UK until 2013.
According to his legal team, the man was raised a Muslim, but became an atheist during his stay in the UK. The team argued that he would be persecuted and possibly face a death sentence if he returned to Afghanistan.
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of The British Humanist Association, welcomed the decision by the home office to grant the man asylum and noted that the case may be the first based on a person’s non-religious beliefs.
“Freedom of belief for humanists, atheists and other non-religious people is as important as freedom of belief as freedom of belief for the religious,” he said. “But it is too often neglected by Western governments who focus too narrowly on the rights of Christians abroad, as we have seen recently. 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,” Copson added.
Sheona York, part of the legal team from the University of Kent’s law school clinic, said that the decision represented “an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position.”
Lawyers submitted a claim to the Home Office under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which aims to protect people from persecution for reasons for race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. They argued that the man’s return to Afghanistan could result in a death sentence under Sharia law.
“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,” explained Clair Splawn, the second year law student who prepared the case with the supervision of York.
According to the BBC, non-Muslims, especially those from the Hindu and Sikh religions, have been living peacefully in Afghanistan for centuries, and those who were born Muslim but no longer believe could exist peacefully in society, as long as they kept quiet about it. Conversion to another religion or apostasy-abandoning their religious faith is a crime under Afghanistan’s Islamic law and is punishable by death.
“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,” the UK Home Office said in a recent statement about the matter.