January 13, 2014
An Afghan man is understood to have become the first atheist ever to secure asylum in Britain on religious grounds. His case was accepted by the Home Office on the basis there was a risk he could face persecution in Afghanistan for having rejected Islam.
Although he was brought up a Muslim, since living in the UK he has gradually turned away from it and is now an atheist. The young man – who does not want to be identified for fear of being rejected by the Afghan community in Britain – fled to the UK from a conflict involving his family in Afghanistan.
He first claimed asylum in 2007 when he was just 16. The claim was rejected but he was granted discretionary leave to remain until 2013 under rules to protect unaccompanied children.
The case was taken up by Kent Law Clinic, a pro bono service provided by students and supervised by practising lawyers from the University of Kent’s Law School, alongside local solicitors and barristers. A submission to the Home Office argued 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 silent about his atheist beliefs.
Sheona York, who supervised the case, said: “The decision represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position.”
A Home Office spokesman 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.”
The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/afghan-atheist-to-get-asylum-in-britain-on-religious-grounds-9057286.html
The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10569748/Atheist-Afghan-man-granted-asylum-in-UK-to-protect-him-from-religious-persecution.html
Abu Qatada’s wife and five children left their taxpayer funded home in north-west London and were driven to Heathrow Airport by officials from the Home Office just after lunchtime. They then boarded the 5.05pm American Airlines flight to Amman, where Qatada is currently awaiting trial of terrorism charges.
The family’s departure signals a victory for the Home Office, which successfully secured Qatada’s deportation from Britain last month, following a decade long legal battle, which is estimated to have cost the taxpayer in excess of £3 million. A spokesman for the Home Office confirmed that the family had left and said they had also abandoned their bid to be granted the right to live here permanently. Sources said the Home Secretary would also use the powers available to her to prevent the family from returning to Britain in the future.
Members of the extremist English Defence League had also held protests against the family’s continued presence in the UK. In a letter to an Islamic website, one of Qatada’s sons recently wrote: “Racist pressure groups in Britain hold demonstrations outside the house on a weekly basis between four in the afternoon and eleven in the evening. These demonstrators would scream and curse at us and at Islam.”
The Home Office’s long legal duel with the radical cleric Abu Qatada has cost taxpayers £1,716,306, Theresa May has told MPs. The figure includes £647,658 in legal aid for the terror suspect and more than £1m in government costs, the home secretary disclosed in a letter to the all-party Commons home affairs committee. But the overall bill would have been nearer £2m if more than £200,000 had not been used from Abu Qatada’s frozen assets, according to officials. The bill, run up since 2005, was revealed as the formalities were being finalised for a legal treaty with Jordan which would allow Abu Qatada’s deportation. Ministers are hoping this can be ratified at Westminster by next Friday and the cleric put on a plane as soon as possible afterwards. Home secretaries have been trying for years to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan, where he was convicted in his absence in 1999 of terror charges related to bomb attacks. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission previously heard that a USB stick understood to belong to Abu Qatada’s eldest son contained “jihadist files” made by the “media wing of al-Qaida”.
The Jordanian parliament has approved a treaty with the UK designed to trigger the removal of radical cleric Abu Qatada, the Home Office has said. The agreement, unveiled by Home Secretary Theresa May in April, aims to allay fears that evidence extracted through torture will be used against the terror suspect at a retrial. The agreement has been approved by both houses of the Jordanian parliament but must still be signed off by the country’s King Abdullah. The UK Government expects the treaty to be ratified in Britain by June 21.
27 March 2013
The annual United Kingdom counter-terrorism strategy report (CONTEST) released this month reveals that hundreds of Europeans are fighting in Syria and warns of the domestic threat posed by the UK nationals taking part in the conflict. Charles Farr, a former MI6 officer, claimed that an estimate of between 70-100 UK nationals fighting in Syria is not unrealistic and that many of these individuals are fighting with Jabhat al-Nusra, a group associated with al-Qaeda. Mr. Farr’s comments come amid a growing concern that fighters returning to the UK may employ their skills to commit acts of domestic terrorism.
Police are foiling a terrorism plot as big as the 7 July attacks every year, a senior officer has said. Mr Osborne, the UK’s senior national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, said Islamic extremists were planning in smaller groups to avoid detection. This came as the Home Office revealed the number of terror arrests had risen by 60% in the year to September 2012. The total of people held on suspicion of terrorism-related offences over the 12 months to September 2012, rose to 245 from 153 the previous year. Of those arrested, 45 (18%) were charged with a terror-related offence, with 10 convicted and 25 awaiting trial. One of the remaining 10 had been acquitted, while the other nine had been convicted over non-terror related offences. There were 134 prisoners classified as terrorists or domestic extremists by the end of September last year. A total of 2,291 terrorism arrests had been made since the September 11 attacks on America in 2001. The report however highlighted that the special police powers to stop and search people for terrorist material had not been used once since they were introduced in March 2011.
19 April 2012
A Muslim cleric, Abu Qatada, who is accused of having links to al-Qaida has caused a stir in UK politics. Successive UK governments have become entangled in a long legal battle to deport the “extremist Islamist cleric” to Jordan; however they failed thanks to Jordan’s poor human rights record. It was the ECtHR that had been stopping the UK government from deporting Abu Qatada, hence along with a few other similar high profile cases, the case prompted British politicians to question Britain’s commitment to the ECHR as the final decision maker on domestic issues. The debate went so far as to call the UK government to withdraw from the ECHR and stipulate sterner laws to crack down on “Islamic extremism”.
Last week the UK government got very close to scoring a significant victory when they managed to get Abu Qatada rearrested by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. The court that deals with national security deportations revoked Abu Qatada’s bail, which gave Home Secretary Theresa May an opportunity to swiftly deport him. While the Home Office was gearing up to deport the cleric it became apparent that Abu Qatada’s lawyers had appealed to the ECtHR before the deadline which resulted in further delays in the cleric’s deportation process and a major embarrassment for the UK government as they failed yet again to deport the “radical Islamist”.
As part of the government’s revamped Prevent strategy, British universities have been ordered to inform the police about Muslim students who may be vulnerable to radicalisation due to feelings of depression or isolation. According to the new guidance for countering Islamist radicalism, students reported at being “at risk” will then be monitored and Scotland Yard will assess any terrorist threat. However, the students will not be made aware of this investigation. The backdrop to this new focus on universities is the realisation that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallabhad, who has come to be known as the “underpants bomber” of Christmas 2009, had studied at the University College London.
The new guidance has resulted in discomfort amongst both lecturers and student unions who are concerned about the infringement of students’ civil liberties. As the Guardian reports, the National Union of Students, for instance, instructed their officers to not provide the police with details about students unless they presented a warrant. Similarly, James Haywood, president of Goldsmiths college student union, said he was appalled to be asked to spy on Muslim students. The University and College Union criticised the new strategy for risking to damage the relationship between staff and students. Similarly, Ted Cantle warned of the risk to stigmatise Muslims. Despite these criticisms, however, the Home Office defended the new strategy and expressed the expectation on universities to play their role in achieving its objectives.
1 December 2010
In this op-ed, Michael Mumisa of the University of Cambridge shares his view on the fragmented situation of the Muslim community in Britain:
“The previous government’s controversial programme for preventing violent extremism is currently being reviewed by the Home Office. How did it happen that programmes which were introduced with the aim of promoting ‘community cohesion’ and preventing the influence of violent extremists ended up achieving the opposite of what they set out to achieve? Since the introduction of such programmes British Muslim communities have been engaged in what is effectively a ‘civil war’ which has left young Muslims (the intended beneficiaries of the programmes) further marginalised and more vulnerable to extremist ideas. (…)”
Counterterrorism police have targeted hundreds of surveillance cameras on two Muslim areas of Birmingham, enabling them to track the precise movements of people entering and leaving the neighbourhoods.
The project has principally been sold to locals as an attempt to combat antisocial behaviour, vehicle crime and drug dealing in the area. But the cameras have been paid for by a £3m grant from a government fund, the Terrorism and Allied Matters Fund, which is administered by the Association of Chief Police Officers.
The funding arrangement was not made clear to the handful of councillors who were briefed that the cameras would appear in their area. Instead, they were told only that the money had come from the Home Office. “I raised my concern then: is this really about spying?” said Salma Yaqoob, a member of the Respect party and councillor for Sparkbrook.
The British anti-radicalization strategy called Prevent aimed at Muslim communities to detect and prevent early signs of radicalization, among youths and others. But Security officials are struggling to stem a tide of unease among Muslim communities about the program, which seeks among other things to identify people most vulnerable to recruitment by al Qaeda-aligned groups and wean them away from extremism.
“People fear Prevent. They misinterpret it. They think it’s spying on us,” said Owais Rajput, a researcher at Bradford University in West Yorkshire, the home area of three of the four men who killed 52 people in suicide attacks in London in 2005. Jahan Mahmoud, a community worker and academic in the Midlands city of Birmingham, said there were large segments of the community that felt Prevent, led by the Home Office, was prying into their lives.
Prevent Director Debbie Gupta thinks there was “great confusion” about Prevent’s link to wider efforts to strengthen Muslim communities. Prevent spying was a myth, she said. “Prevent is focused on Muslims because that is where al Qaeda’s focus is. They deploy their distorted version of Islam onto Muslims.” She said one solution might be to reduce the role of the police and boost that of community organizations.