The withdrawal of Shamima Begum’s citizenship isn’t just about her, it’s about all our rights

Written by Jenni Davidson on 26 February 2019 in Comment

Shamima Begum should face justice, but that is something that should be dealt with in a court of law

UK passport - Image credit: Katie Collins/PA

It’s not often I find myself agreeing with Donald Trump, even a little, but these are strange times.

Last week the US president tweeted calling on Britain, France, Germany and its other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that the US had captured in Syria and put them on trial, warning that “the alternative is not a good one” in that they would be forced to release them.

Leaving aside the questionable practice of conducting international diplomacy through Twitter and the implicit threat behind the US being ‘forced’ to release hundreds of terrorists if other countries would not take them, I can agree with Trump on one thing, that leaving terrorists floating around the Middle East, possibly stateless, is not good.

But this is exactly what we are proposing to do in the case of Shamima Begum, the British teenager who left the UK in 2015 to join ISIS and who last week had her British citizenship revoked as a result, leaving her in limbo in Syria with just the vague possibility of Bangladeshi citizenship, a country she has never been to.

It’s a move that should send shivers down the spine of any British citizen, because this isn’t just about Begum, but about all our rights.

Because citizenship has become something that can now simply be withdrawn on a whim, without trial, as a punishment for alleged crimes abroad, with the Home Office acting as both judge and jury.

Or at least they can if you are unfortunate enough to have brown skin and a parent or grandparent born in another country, particularly one nice and far away, the kind of country where you can send your unwanted terrorists, such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iraq.

Because would we be revoking Begum’s citizenship if the country forced to take her was France, Germany, America or Australia?

Did we ever try to make IRA terrorists the Republic of Ireland’s problem just because they also had the right to an Irish passport? No.

It suggests that there are two tiers of British citizen and some British people are just a bit more British than others.

None of this is to condone what Begum has done or say that she is not culpable for her actions.

Far from it. She should face justice, but that is something that should be dealt with in a court of law. Citizenship is not an optional thing, only for people we like.

It is noticeable that Begum’s citizenship was not withdrawn when she left, but only after she was interviewed in the media and there was public outrage over her lack of repentance.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said the UK had a range of “tough measures” to prevent terrorists who may be a threat from coming back to the UK, but justice is not something that can be dished out on the basis of popular outcry and mob rule, nor something to leave to some other country to sort out on our behalf.

Far from being tough, this is weak, racist populism. It is discriminatory and it undermines the rule of law and the human rights of all British citizens to a fair trial and proportionate punishment for their crimes, as well as the UK’s international obligations to take responsibility for its own. Even Donald Trump would be able to see this choice is “not a good one”.

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