In Brief

Afghan atheist granted asylum in Britain on religious grounds

Lawyers argued man would face persecution for renouncing his faith if he returned to his homeland

AN AFGHAN man who renounced his faith in Islam is believed to have become the first atheist granted asylum in the UK on religious grounds. 

Lawyers for the 23-year-old, who has not been named, said he could face a death sentence under sharia law if he returned to his homeland.

The man was brought up as a Muslim and fled his native country following a conflict involving his family. After arriving in England in 2007 at the age of 16, he was given temporary leave to remain until 2013 and gradually turned to atheism.

In his application to remain in the UK, his lawyers argued that if he returned to Afghanistan he would be persecuted for becoming an "apostate" – a person who has abandoned their faith – unless he remained discreet about his new beliefs. Living discreetly would be virtually impossible, however, because Islam permeates every aspect of daily life and culture in Afghanistan, they said.

The man's fears of persecution apparently increased when he attended a friend's wedding in Pakistan, where he said he was shocked by how people responded to him. According to evidence presented to the Home Office, he was told he could not sit and eat with people who were Muslim and he believed the situation would be worse in his home country.

His application was granted before the hearing stage at an immigration tribunal.

The Home Office's decision to accept denial of the existence of God as grounds for protection could set "a significant precedent" in asylum and immigration cases, says The Guardian.

The case was taken up by Kent Law Clinic, a pro bono service provided by students and supervised by practising lawyers from the University of Kent's Law School, alongside local solicitors and barristers.

His solicitor Sheona York said she was "absolutely delighted" with the decision and said it "represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position".

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