Britain’s Home Office has granted asylum to an aetheist Afghan citizen saying he would face persecution and even death if returned to Muslim-majority Afghanistan.
The man fled to the UK from a conflict involving his family in 2007, aged 16, and was allowed to stay in the UK until 2013.
Legal representatives for the unnamed man said that he had become an aetheist during his years in the UK after being brought up as a Muslim in Afghanistan.
The man was represented by a team from the Kent Law Clinic at the University of Kent’s Law school.
They believe it is the first time a person has been granted asylum in the UK on the basis of their atheism.
Lawyers lodged a submission to the Home Office 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.
They said the man’s return to Afghanistan could result in a death sentence under Sharia law as an apostate – someone who has abandoned their religious faith – unless he remained discreet about his atheist beliefs.
But because every aspect of daily life and culture in Afghanistan is permeated by Islam living discreetly would be virtually impossible, they said.
Afghan authorities show little compassion for Muslims who “betray their faith” by ceasing to follow Islam. Conversion, or apostasy, is also a crime under Afghanistan’s Islamic law and is punishable by death.
Whilst Asylum seekers have been granted permission to settle in the UK on religious grounds before, a spokesman for the Kent Law Clinic said this decision was an “important recognition” that aetheism is a “thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position”.
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.”