British asylum for Afghan atheist hailed as ground-breaking decision

January 15, 2014

(Britain’s Home Office in central London March 29, 2007. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico)

Britain’s decision to grant asylum to an atheist Afghan citizen for religious reasons was hailed  as ground-breaking for giving the same rights to non-religious people as to the religious.

The unnamed man fled to Britain at the age of 16 in 2007 from a conflict involving his family in Afghanistan. He was brought up a Muslim but during his time in Britain he abandoned his religion and became an atheist, according to his legal team at the University of Kent’s Law School.

His case for asylum lodged with the Home Office (interior ministry) was believed to be the first of its kind in Britain as it hinged on an argument that he would face persecution if he returned to Afghanistan because of his lack of religious belief.

In Afghanistan and several other Muslim countries, an apostate – someone who has abandoned their former religious faith – can face the death sentence.

The decision on Monday came after Britain’s Supreme Court last month ruled that Scientology was a religion. In that decision, it said it was not necessary to recognise a god to constitute a religion. The Church of Scientology has struggled to gain recognition as a genuine religion in many countries.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) welcomed the UK’s protection of non-religious refugees on the grounds of their belief.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said the freedom of belief for humanists, atheists and other non-religious people was as important as freedom of belief for the religious, but it was often neglected by Western governments.

“It is great to see Britain showing a lead in defending the human rights of the non-religious in the same way,” Copson said in a statement.

The Home Office said it did not comment on individual cases. “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,” said a Home Office spokeswoman.

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