A WOMAN who had her UK citizenship revoked after travelling to Syria to join the Islamic State group should be allowed to return home to challenge the decision, a London court has ruled.
Shamima Begum, 20, lost the first stage of her case about the legality of the government’s decision at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) in February.
But the tribunal also ruled she could not have a “fair and effective appeal” or play “any meaningful part” in the process, as she was living in a Syrian refugee camp.
Three senior judges at the Court of Appeal on Thursday (16) upheld that SIAC ruling.
“Ms Begum should be allowed to come to the United Kingdom to pursue her appeal albeit subject to such controls as the (home secretary) deems appropriate,” they said.
Begum was 15 when she and two other schoolgirls from Bethnal Green in east London left home to join the jihadist group on February 17, 2015.
She claimed she had married a Dutch convert soon after arriving in IS-held territory. She was discovered, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February last year.
Her newborn baby died soon after she gave birth. Two of her other children also died due to malnutrition and illnesses under IS rule.
The then-home secretary, Sajid Javid, annulled Begum’s British citizenship on national security grounds after an outcry led by right-wing media.
That prompted her to take legal action, arguing the decision was unlawful, made her stateless and exposed her to the risk of death or inhuman and degrading treatment.
The British-born Begum is of Bangladeshi heritage. But Bangladesh maintained that it would not consider granting her citizenship.
“She has never sought Bangladeshi citizenship and her parents are also British citizens,” said Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abdul Momen.
“The British government is responsible for her. They will have to deal with her.”
Momen also added that Begum would “have to face death penalty” if she were to be tried in the country.
Many human rights in the UK pointed out that Begum was, indeed, “a product of Britain”, and not of Bangladesh—a country she had never visited. Hence, they argued, she should be tried on British soil.
Begum’s lawyer, Daniel Furner, said his client had “never had a fair opportunity to give her side of the story”, which made the government’s decision unjust.
Human rights group Liberty also welcomed the decision, saying: “The right to a fair trial is not something the government can take away on a whim.
“It is a fundamental part of our justice system and equal access to justice must apply to everyone.”
Clare Collier, advocacy director at Liberty, had earlier said Begum “should not be banished—banishing people belongs in the dark ages, not 21st-century Britain”.
The Home Office, meanwhile, called the ruling “very disappointing”, adding that it would seek permission to appeal.
“The government’s top priority remains maintaining our national security and keeping the public safe,” a spokesperson added.
In September last year, Home Secretary Priti Patel had said: “We cannot have people who would do us harm allowed to enter our country — and that includes this woman.”
Javid, who had taken a strong stand against Begum, said allowing her back on British soil would serve as “as a lightning rod for both Islamist and far-right extremists”.
“First and most critically, allowing her – and indeed other terrorists – back into the UK to pursue an appeal would create a national security risk that cannot be fully mitigated, even with the diversion of significant resources,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter.
I am deeply concerned by today’s judgment at the Court of Appeal: pic.twitter.com/Ns94KOAQH4
— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) July 16, 2020
Javid said the “restrictions of rights and freedoms” faced by Begum were “a direct consequence of the actions she has taken, in violation of both government guidance and common morality”.
He also wondered “why an appeal could not be made abroad using modern technology” as he welcomed the Home Office’s decision to appeal the verdict.
Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan backed the court’s ruling, saying he was not in favour of “sub-contracting justice to another country”.
“People who commit criminal offences must face the music,” he said.
“While we’ve got courts in this country and judges who are some of the fairest in the world, I think if a British citizen commits an offence here or overseas they should face justice in the criminal courts.
“And if she has committed a criminal offence I’m sure the jury will find her guilty, and justice will be served.”