Man granted asylum for religious reasons – because he is an atheist

It has this week (14/01/13) been reported that an Afghan man has become the first atheist granted UK asylum on the grounds of his religious views – or lack of.

Having renounced his faith over the last six years while living in the UK, the unnamed 23-year-old feared persecution if he returned to his native country, Afghanistan.

Under Sharia Law, being an apostate – someone who has abandoned their religious faith – is punishable by death. And, given the extreme influence religion has on every facet of Afghanistan life and culture, living discreetly as an atheist was not a feasible option.

The ruling marks a historic moment; it has been widely reported that the Home Office’s decision is the first of its kind. It certainly recognises that atheism is a belief also worthy of protection – in this case from the dangers of the religion it rejects.

Kent Law Clinic represented the man, helping him to submit his claim to the Home Office under the UN’s 1951 refugee convention. Solicitor Sheona York supervised the case. She said: “The decision represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position.”

It is promising to see the UK taking the lead in protecting the human rights for all beliefs. It is also a stark reminder of the threat religious extremism can pose.

I find myself reminiscing on the novels of Kalid Hosseini (The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, And The Mountains Echoed), which gave me my first – and admittedly limited – insight into the troubled and tragic lives of so many who call Afghanistan home.

Hosseini articulates the struggles of those who face oppression (religious and otherwise) in Afghanistan in ways I could never hope to emulate in this space. For anyone interested in Afghanistan culture and religion, (in fact, anyone at all who appreciates a good read) I strongly recommend picking up one his novels.

To accept denial of the existence of God as grounds for protection could set a significant precedent in asylum and immigration cases. I for one feel immensely proud and grateful that the UK continues to lead the way in protecting society’s most vulnerable. How many more lives could this precedent spare?


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