First case of asylum granted in UK under Refugee Convention on basis of atheism

14 January, 2014

The Home Office have reportedly for the first time granted an asylum application on the basis of atheism under the protection from persecution for reasons of religion or belief grounds. An Afghan citizen, who does not wish to be identified for fear of being rejected by his community, has been granted asylum in the UK for because he does not believe in god and is no longer a Muslim and could face persecution and possibly a death sentence if he was returned to Afghanistan. The British Humanist Association (BHA) which recently welcomed the International Humanist Ethical Union (IHEU) seminal Freedom of Thought report into discrimination against humanists, atheists and the non religious globally, has welcomed this example of the UK’s protection of non-religious refugees on the grounds of their belief.

The man, represented by University of Kent Law School, 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 stated that the man’s return to Afghanistan could result in a death sentence under the sharia as an apostate unless he hid his beliefs. But because every aspect of daily life and culture in Afghanistan is permeated by Islam, this would be virtually impossible.

Andrew Copson Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association and First Vice President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union commented ‘’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.’



For further comment or information contact BHA Head of Public Affairs on 0773 8435059 or at

The Freedom of Thought Report website:

Freedom of Thought 2012 – A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Nonreligious:

The International Humanist and Ethical Union:

Previous BHA news article – New report shows global discrimination against humanists, atheists and the non-religious:

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the world umbrella group bringing together more than 100 Humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist, and freethought organizations from 40 countries.


The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.