ISIS bride Shamima Begum can return to UK for citizenship fight, court rules

16 July 2020, 10:42

Shamima Begum fled London in 2015 to join the Islamic State in Syria
Shamima Begum fled London in 2015 to join the Islamic State in Syria. Picture: PA
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

Shamima Begum should be allowed to return to the UK to appeal the revoking of her British citizenship, senior judges have said.

The Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday that the "only way" Ms Begum - who fled London at 15 years old to join the Islamic State - could have a fair and effective appeal would be if she was in UK at the time.

Lord Justice Flaux, who delivered the ruling with Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Singh, said "fairness and justice" must outweigh national security concerns on the facts of the case.

He added that such concerns could be "addressed and managed" if she eventually returns to the country.

"If the Security Service and the Director of Public Prosecutions consider that the evidence and public interest tests for a prosecution for terrorist offences are met, she could be arrested and charged upon her arrival in the United Kingdom and remanded in custody pending trial," the court said.

The Government said it was "bitterly disappointed" by the court's ruling in the Shamima Begum case, Downing Street said.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The Government's priority is maintaining our national security, and decisions to deprive individuals of their citizenship are not taken lightly.

"We will always ensure the safety and security of the UK and will not allow anything to jeopardise this."

The Home Office has said it will apply for permission to appeal.

The three schoolgirls left London in 2015 to join Islamic State
The three schoolgirls left London in 2015 to join Islamic State. Picture: PA

The ruling is a crucial win for Ms Begum, who initially lost the first hurdle to regain her citizenship back in February.

Now 20 years old, the runaway was just a teenager when she travelled to Syria with her school friends Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, then 16 and 15 respectively.

She claimed she had married Dutch IS fighter Yago Riedijk just 10 days after arriving in the war-torn nation and went on to have three children with him - all of whom died.

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After three years under IS rule, a heavily-pregnant Ms Begum was found living in a refugee camp in Syria, where she told news outlets she wanted to come home.

In response, the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid revoked her British citizenship, citing national security concerns.

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Ms Begum eventually decided to take legal action against the Home Office as a result, arguing the decision had left her stateless and at risk of death or inhuman and degrading treatment, making it unlawful.

But the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) - a specialist tribunal - ruled that it was, in fact, a lawful decision because Ms Begum was "a citizen of Bangladesh by descent".

It also found that she "cannot play any meaningful part in her appeal" which could mean the appeal would "not be fair and effective" - although "it does not follow that her appeal succeeds".

But in Thursday's ruling, Lord Justice Flaux said it was an "unthinkable" decision from the SIAC to conclude that the 20-year-old could not take a meaningful part in her appeal.

He added: "It is difficult to conceive of any case where a court of tribunal has said we cannot hold a fair trial, but we are going to go on anyway."

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Ms Begum is currently residing in the al-Roj camp in Syria.

Her solicitor, Daniel Furner, said the latest judgement was an "important reminder that fairness and the rule of law remain cornerstones of the British legal system and that they set the legal limits within which the home secretary may act."

Mr Furner added that justice could not be "defeated or indefinitely delayed" due to it being a difficult case or because of national security.

"Ms Begum has never had a fair opportunity to give her side of the story," he said.

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"The court itself noted the 'obvious' difference between interviews given to journalists, and instructions provided to a solicitor in court proceedings.

"Ms Begum is not afraid of facing British justice, she welcomes it.

"But the stripping of her citizenship without a chance to clear her name is not justice - it is the opposite."

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Human rights organisation Liberty also welcomed the decision, and said that "banishing someone" was evidence of a government "shirking its responsibility".

Liberty lawyer Katie Lines said: "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.

"Banishing someone is the act of a government shirking its responsibilities and it is critical that cruel and irresponsible Government decisions can be properly challenged and overturned."

Meanwhile, the Home Office said the decision was a "disappointing" one.

A spokeswoman added: "We will now apply for permission to appeal this judgment, and to stay its effects pending any onward appeal.

"The government's top priority remains maintaining our national security and keeping the public safe."

Sajid Javid tweeted he was "deeply concerned" by the judgment.

He said he respected the court and would limit how much he said about the case, but that there were important principles at stake.

"Any restrictions of rights and freedoms faced by Ms Begum are a direct consequence of the actions she has taken, in violation of both government guidance and common morality," he said.

"It is not clear to me why an appeal could not be made abroad using modern technology.

"However, this is not solely a matter of justice. It is also a matter of national security."