Young atheist from Afghanistan is granted asylum in the United Kingdom – on religious grounds
IN WHAT is believed to be the first case of its kind in the UK, a Muslim apostate has been granted asylum in the UK on the basis of his atheism.
The unnamed asylum-seeker fled to the UK when he was 16 from a conflict involving his family in Afghanistan in 2007. He was given leave to stay in the UK until 2013.
He was raised a Muslim, but during his time in the UK became an atheist, his legal team said. They said he would face persecution and possibly a death sentence if he was returned to Afghanistan.
The team was from the University of Kent’s Law School which offers legal services through its Kent Law Clinic. His 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. The case was prepared by second-year law student Claire Splawn under the supervision of clinic solicitor Sheona York. Ms Splawn said:
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.
The decision represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position.
The British Humanist Association said the case may well have a claim to be a first in being based on non-religious beliefs. Chief executive Andrew Copson said:
Freedom of belief for humanists, atheists and other non-religious people is as important as freedom of belief for the religious 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.
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.
The decision will be particularly welcomed by the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, which in 2010 pointed out that the the British judiciary generally felt that Muslim apostates – atheists or converts to other religions – faced no dangers in their countries of origin so long as they were “discreet”. In a report for the CEMB, Anne Marie Waters wrote:
In the case of MM (Iran) v Secretary of State for Home Department in 2009, the Court of Appeal addressed the question of apostasy and asylum: ‘Distinctions there made between the ordinary discreet convert, who would be able to practice Christianity without untoward risk, and the more active convert, pastor, church leader, proselytiser or evangelist, or other convert to whom an additional risk factor might attach (eg a woman), who would be at real risk, and found that MM fell into the former category’.
In other words, it was thought that if a person did not display their apostasy publicly, they were not in any danger in Iran.
The CEMB also pointed out:
A recent case (2010) decided in the UK Supreme Court may have an effect on the considerations made by the judiciary when assessing cases of asylum on grounds of religion/apostasy. Five Supreme Court justices said that gay and lesbian asylum seekers should not be expected to ‘exercise discretion’ in their home countries to avoid persecution.
This had hitherto been the approach; that homosexuals could be discreet about their sexuality and therefore avoid being persecuted. Whether this transfers to religion, political belief, or membership of a specified group will remain to be seen, but it is almost certainly ripe for legal challenge.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn, Andrew Leon Hudson and Adam Tjaavk