Nine years to the day since Shamima Begum entered ISIS controlled Syria as a fifteen-year-old, she heard that she had lost an appeal against the decision to remove her British citizenship. All three appeal judges ruled against her.

Shamima Begum’s lawyers argued that the then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, in removing her British citizenship had failed to consider whether she had been groomed and trafficked and so had breached anti-slavery protections in British law. These facts, identified as key by Shamima’s lawyers, had also been heard at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) in February last year. The SIAC ruled that there was credible suspicion that “she was recruited, transferred and then harboured for the purpose of sexual exploitation”. However, she had lost her challenge on the grounds that the Home Secretary had broad discretion in making the decision.

This reasoning was echoed by the three Court of Appeal Judges led by Lady Chief Justice Baroness Carr: “It could be argued that the decision in Miss Begum’s case was harsh. It could also be argued that Ms Begum is the author of own misfortune, but it is not for this court to agree or disagree with either point of view.

“Our only task is to assess whether the deprivation of citizenship decision was unlawful. We have concluded that it was not and the appeal is dismissed.” 

The judgement is clear. The only issue of importance is the fear that Ms Begum poses a threat to national security, and this consideration not only overrides any other factors, but those factors are seen as irrelevant. What is deeply worrying is that the assessment of ‘risk’ has not been made by a court of law in full possession of the facts, but by whispered advice from MI5. The fact that this advice is mainly based on one interview Shamima Begum gave in a camp, surrounded by ISIS supporters who were known to intimidate and murder those speaking against them, makes the reasoning behind the decision-making hugely questionable. The second factor mentioned by MI5 in its advice is that there would be huge public hostility if she were to be repatriated. This is nothing more than trial by the media.

It was also found that Javid acted lawfully “despite knowing that she had nowhere else to go“ because she retained a theoretical Bangladeshi citizenship at the time of the decision. It would not be possible to do the same today, the judges added, because of her age as she lost her Bangladeshi citizenship when she reached 21.

So the court did not consider any mitigating facts, common in most appeals. The fact that these were as serious as child trafficking and sexual exploitation makes the Justices’ decision hard to comprehend. Their reasoning was merely based on the perceived threat that Ms Begum presented, based on intelligence from MI5, that cannot effectively be challenged.

Lady Chief Justice Baroness Carr is right in her suggestion. This decision is certainly harsh. It is also unjust.

The podcast on BBC Sounds, “The Shamima Begum” story – I am not a monster“, by the investigative journalist Josh Baker, not only sets out the complexity and horror of Shamima Begum’s case, it provides evidence of a web of state espionage that would do justice to any spy novel. The key player, or people smuggler who assisted Shamima Begum and her friends to cross from Istanbul into Syria was a smiling, educated dentist from Syria. He was also a double agent spying for Canada. There is therefore plausible evidence that the girls could have been stopped before they crossed that border. No one could have made it into Syria without smugglers.

It is also a story of three teenage girls from a deprived area of London, Tower Hamlets, struggling with their identity as British Muslims. Shamima Begum said that she so much wanted to be British but never felt that she belonged. They were also influenced by a fourth girl who became radicalised after her mother died and who was the first from the group to flee to ISIS. She encouraged and excited her friends with stories about the Islamic utopia – the eternal paradise. Shamima Begum said she was shown information online of beautiful parks with families walking together hand in hand.

The reality was, of course, very different. Ten days after her arrival in ISIS territory, she was forced to marry a 23-year-old Dutch ISIS fighter called Yago Riedijk. She gave birth to three babies, all of whom died.

Shamima Begum is now being held in indefinite detention in the squalid Roj refugee camp in North East Syria.

Maya Foa, the director of Reprieve, an NGO that represents the two dozen British women detained in north-east Syria said: “This whole episode shames ministers who would rather bully a child victim of trafficking than acknowledge the UK’s responsibilities.”

Ms Begum’s lawyers have said they will keep fighting and will seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Shamima Begum remains stateless, with little hope. Her case acts as a warning to others who may intentionally or unintentionally become involved in the murky world of state security. There will be no protection in law from arbitrary state power.


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