LONDON (AFP) — A woman who had her UK citizenship revoked after traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State group should be allowed to return home to challenge the decision, a court ruled Thursday.
Shamima Begum, 20, lost the first stage of her case about the legality of the government’s decision at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission 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 upheld that commission 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 claims she 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 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’s foreign minister has said he would not consider granting her citizenship.
Her 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.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the government was “bitterly disappointed” and would seek permission to appeal — and to ensure Begum could not return before it was heard.
“The government’s priority is maintaining our national security, and decisions to deprive individuals of their citizenship are not taken lightly,” he told reporters.
“We will always ensure the safety and security of the UK and will not allow anything to jeopardize this.”
Javid, who is no longer a minister, issued a personal statement warning that allowing Begum to return “would create a national security risk that cannot be fully mitigated.”
He said her situation was a “direct consequence of the actions she had taken” and said she could appeal from abroad using “modern technology.”
© Agence France-Presse