The case was submitted to the Home Office under the 1951 Refugee Convention on the basis that if the man returned to Afghanistan he would face persecution on the grounds of religion, or in this case his lack of religious belief.
Legal support in the case was provided for free by Kent Law Clinic, a pro bono service provided by students and supervised by qualified practising lawyers from the University of Kent’s Law School.
The man involved fled to the UK from a conflict involving his family in Afghanistan and was allowed to stay in the UK until 2013, a university spokeswoman said.
He was brought up as a Muslim but after arriving in the UK, aged 16, in 2007, he gradually turned to atheism, she said.
The case involved the Law Clinic lodging an extensive written submission with the Home Office, drawing on recent Supreme Court decisions, and including detailed evidence that 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.
‘Lack of religion can lead to religious persecution’
Evidence also showed that because every aspect of daily life and culture in Afghanistan is permeated by Islam, living discreetly would be virtually impossible, the spokeswoman said.
Claire Splawn, a second year law student at the University of Kent, prepared the case under the supervision of Clinic Solicitor, Sheona York.
Miss 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.”
Ms York added: “We are absolutely delighted for our client. We also want to welcome the prompt and positive response of the Home Office. 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.”
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, 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.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.
“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.”