Shamima Begum Left in ‘Legal Black Hole’

By Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communication

26 February saw a severe blow dealt to Shamima Begum’s fight for her British citizenship. In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court adjudicated that she will not be allowed entry into Britain to appeal her case.

In 2015 as part of what The Times dubbed the ‘Bethnel Green Trio’, Begum, along with Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, left the United Kingdom to join the so-called Islamic State in Syria.

In the immediate aftermath, Lord Bernard Hogan-Howe, the former head of London’s Metropolitan Police, had said while giving evidence to MPs before the Home Affairs Select Committee ‘if they return home there are no terrorism issues here.’

In stark contrast to Lord Howe, when former Prime Minister David Cameron was asked what would be the fate of the London school girls should they return, Cameron asserted ‘whoever has gone out to join a terrorist organisation is breaking the law and has to face the consequences […] We have to let the law take its course in the proper way.’

Sultana is believed to have perished during a 2016 airstrike in Raqqa. She was 17 years old. A 2019 Sky News article said knowledge of Abase is unknown.
That same year, Begum discovered the Home Office had decided to revoke her of her citizenship. In a displacement camp in Syria, Begum was given a copy of the letter her parents had received. Therein it read that ‘In light of the circumstances […] the notice of the Home Secretary’s decision has been served on file today, and the order removing [her] British citizenship has subsequently been made.’

In response, Begum lamented and pleaded for former Home Secretary Sajid Javid to have ‘sympathy and understanding’. At the time she had just given birth to a son. She went on to say the letter was ‘heartbreaking to read.’

The Home Office justified their decision as, according to them, Begum had not been rendered stateless because she was a dual national of Britain and Bangladesh. Both Begum’s family and the Bangladeshi government denied this claim.

“In light of the Supreme Court’s decision Patel stated she would take ‘the strongest possible action to protect our national security.’”

Javid had said that he made this decision to ‘protect this country,’ a sentiment echoed by the current Home Secretary Priti Patel. In light of the Supreme Court’s decision, Patel stated she would take ‘the strongest possible action to protect our national security.’ The Financial Times said this judgement was welcomed by Patel as a ‘victory’ for her and her department.

For Maya Foa, director of the human rights group Reprieve, this decision has left Begum in a ‘legal black hole,’ and it is in fact ‘out of step with British values and the interests of justice and security.’

Foa further highlighted that Begum was 15 years old when she left Britain after having been ‘groomed by a trafficking gang into making a terrible, life-altering mistake.’

Others have highlighted this decision as being a ‘double standard’ within the government’s approach to tackling domestic terror. Many took to Twitter to show the discrepancy between Begum’s fate and that of Harry Vaughan.

In 2020, 18 year old Vaughan was handed a suspended sentence after being found guilty for ‘encouraging terrorism, disseminating a terrorist publication and possessing documents useful for terrorism.’ This followed an investigation where police found Vaughan was linked to an online neo-Nazi forum and possessed indecent images of underage boys. One Twitter user said this juxtaposition was a ‘massive display of hypocrisy’ on the part of the government.

The human rights group Liberty warn that the UK may be setting an ‘extremely dangerous precedent.’ In contrast, America’s stance is that countries are duty bound to repatriate their nationals who went to join Isis.

For Rosie Brighouse, a lawyer with Liberty, ‘the right to a fair trial is not something democratic governments should take away on a whim, and nor is someone’s British citizenship.’

Photo caption: The Supreme Court’s latest ruling overturns the 2019 decision by the Court of Appeal that would have allowed 21-year old Shamima Begum to return to the UK. (Credit: BBC News)

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