NEW DELHI: London-born Islamic State (ISIS) recruit Shamima Begum has won the right to return to the UK and carry on her legal fight against the UK government’s revocation of her British citizenship on security grounds.
The Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday that “the only way in which she can have a fair and effective appeal is to be permitted to come into the United Kingdom to pursue her appeal”.
Who is Shamima Begum?
Begum, now 20, was one of three schoolgirls who fled London to join ISIS in Raqqa, Syria in 2015.
She was 15 years old when she secretly fled her home in east London in 2015 to join the terrorist group in Syria. She is living in a camp run by Kurdish forces in northern Syria currently.
Begum left the UK in February 2015 and lived under ISIS rule for more than three years. She became known as a so-called ISIS bride because she was married to Yago Riedijk, a Dutch ISIS fighter, soon after arriving in Syria.
She was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February last year, prompting then Home Secretary Sajid Javid to strip her of her British citizenship.
After losing two babies due to terrible conditions in a Syrian camp, a heavily pregnant Begum reappeared in February to plead with the UK Government to let her return here.
The court case
Senior UK judges have ruled this week that she must be allowed to re-enter and fight her case. The UK Court of Appeal said she had been denied a fair hearing because she could not make her case from the camp.
A special British immigration tribunal ruled in February that she was a Bangladeshi citizen by descent which meant that she had not been rendered homeless by former UK home secretary Sajid Javid’s decision to revoke her British citizenship.
The Special Immigration Appeals Commission, a specialist tribunal that hears challenges to decisions to remove British citizenship on national security grounds, said Begum was in the situation she is challenging “as a result of her own choices, and of the actions of others, but not because of anything the Secretary of State (Javid) had done”.
Begum’s solicitor, Daniel Furner of Birnberg Peirce, had said she would take her case to the Court of Appeal “as a matter of exceptional urgency”.
At a hearing at the Court of Appeal last month, her lawyer argued that Begum, who remains in the camp in northern Syria, could not effectively challenge the decision while she was barred from returning to the UK.
What happens if she returns to the UK?
The judge said that if Begum, who is now 20, was considered a security threat, and if there was sufficient evidence, she could be arrested on her return to Britain.
Begum angered many Britons by appearing unrepentant about seeing severed heads and saying a suicide attack that killed 22 people in the English city of Manchester in 2017 was justified.
She had pleaded to be repatriated to rejoin her family in London and said she was not a threat.
Begum resurfaced in February last year
The 20-year-old had been tracked down at the al-Hol refugee camp in northern Syria in February last year by ‘The Times’ newspaper, when she was nine months pregnant with her third child, who later died.
She had told reporters her two other children had also died and her husband, Dutch convert Yago Riedijk, had been captured by Western-backed fighters.
Her 27-year-old husband, who is being held in a Kurdish detention centre in north-eastern Syria, had said in a media interview that he wanted his wife to be allowed to return to the Netherlands.
Both the Netherlands and Bangladesh have since denied that Begum would have a right to entry into either country.
Her father Ahmed Ali said: “If she has done anything wrong, she should be brought to England and punished. As far as I know she was a housewife when in Syria.”
The then-home secretary, Sajid Javid, annulled Begum’s British citizenship on national security grounds after an outcry led by right-wing media.
UK home secretary Priti Patel also backed that decision and ruled out the prospect of her return to the UK.
Under UK law, a person can legally have their citizenship revoked but they cannot be made stateless. The UK government maintains that Begum has access to Bangladeshi dual citizenship through her parents, even though the Bangladesh government has since denied any such rights.
What does Bangladesh say?
The country’s foreign minister has warned last year that Begum will be hanged for supporting terrorism if she visits Bangladesh.
Minister Abdul Momen said she would be punished severely as the country has a “zero tolerance” for terrorism.
“We have nothing to do with Shamima Begum. She is not a Bangladeshi citizen. She never applied for Bangladesh citizenship. She was born in England and her mother is British,” Momen told UK’s ITV News.