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Students at the University of Kent have secured British asylum for an Afghan citizen on grounds of atheism.
The case, believed to be the first of its kind, involved a client who had fled to the UK from Afghanistan in 2007 to escape family conflict. He was allowed to remain in the country for six years initially and gradually converted from Islam to atheism over that period.
The case was brought to the Home Office by Kent Law Clinic using the 1951 Refugee Convention. Students argued that if their client was made to return to Afghanistan he would face persecution due to his lack of religious belief.
The clinic lodged an extensive written submission with the Home Office, pointing to recent Supreme Court decisions on similar matters, and detailing evidence that their client’s return to Afghanistan could result in his death under Sharia law as an ‘apostate’. As Afghan daily life is permeated by Islam, living discreetly as an atheist would be impossible.
Second year law student Claire Splawn, who prepared the case under supervision, 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.”
Her supervising solicitor Sheona York added: “We believe that this is the first time that a person has been granted asylum in this country on the basis of their atheism. The decision represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position.”