A woman who joined the Islamic State (IS) in Syria would pose “a clear and present threat” to national security if allowed to return to Britain to appeal a decision to revoke her citizenship, the UK government told the Supreme Court on Monday.
The Conservative government has asked the country’s highest court to decide if Shamima Begum, 21, can come back to pursue an in-person appeal of the 2019 decision to strip her of British citizenship.
The Court of Appeal ruled in her favour in July, but the government immediately appealed, insisting she remains “aligned” with the IS group.
“The exposure of the public to an increased risk of terrorism is not justifiable or appropriate in this case on fairness grounds,” James Eadie, a lawyer acting for the interior ministry, told a five-judge panel.
“What we submit is that those who travelled (to Syria)… pose a clear and present threat specifically on return.”
Begum was 15 when she and two other schoolgirls from Bethnal Green, east London, left home to join the jihadist group on Feb 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.
Then-home secretary Sajid Javid last year annulled Begum’s British citizenship on national security grounds.
She took legal action, arguing the decision was unlawful as it had made her stateless and exposed her to the risk of death or inhuman and degrading treatment.
British-born Begum is of Bangladeshi heritage. But Bangladesh’s foreign minister has said he will not consider granting her citizenship.
Begum’s high-profile flight with her friends from Britain to Syria via Turkey in 2015 was followed by an international manhunt.
Her discovery in the Al Roj camp after the group’s defeat in Syria and the subsequent months of legal wrangling over her return has regularly prompted outcries in Britain’s right-wing press.
Rights groups have argued human rights principles are at stake and Begum should answer for any crimes in her home country.
Lawyer David Pannick, representing her at the two-day Supreme Court hearing, said Britons have a “fair and effective appeal right unless parliament has clearly indicated to the contrary”.
“Begum wants to appeal, she wants to exercise a meaningful right of appeal,” he added.
But the British government is adamant she cannot return.
Detailing its various legal arguments, Eadie quoted extensively from a security services’ analysis written in 2017 and since updated.
Officials believe those who have spent significant time in IS territory have been “radicalised and desensitised to violence,” he said.
Eadie cited recent interviews Begum gave to UK newspapers in which she insisted she did not regret travelling to Syria and had not been fazed seeing severed heads dumped in bins.
He said Begum’s inability to be present at an appeal of the citizenship ruling was due to her original decision to leave Britain.
“It was her travel to Syria and alignment with (IS) that provided that basis for deprivation,” Eadie said.
However, Pannick countered that Begum’s circumstances and comments in interview should not prevent her getting “the proper opportunity to present her case”.
“The court cannot prejudge those issues,” he said, noting “that is the purpose of the appeal”.