Shamima Begum launches legal battle for UK return claiming she could face death penalty in Bangladesh

Tristan Kirk
BBC

ISIS bride Shamima Begum claims she could face the death penalty if sent to Bangladesh as she launched a legal battle for return of her British citizenship.

The 20-year-old from east London married a jihadi fighter in Syria after fleeing the UK in 2015, but now wants to return to Britain to rejoin her family.

However she was stripped of citizenship by the British government in February, and says she has now found herself stateless and trapped in an “appalling” refugee camp.

Launching an appeal this morning, Ms Begum’s lawyers argued she does not have Bangladeshi citizenship through her parents – as is contended by the UK government - and could face prosecution and even execution as a terrorist if sent to that country.

“The Bangladeshi government has made clear it will not allow (her) to go to that country”, said her lawyer, Tom Hickman QC.

“It has said that if she arrived covertly, she would ‘be hanged’.”

Shamima Begum has asked for 'mercy' from UK politicians (Sky News)

A Special Immigration Appeals Commission has been convened in central London to hear Ms Begum’s appeal against the decision to deprive her of British citizenship.

In a written submission to the tribunal, Mr Hickman said Bangladeshi authorities use “blunt and indiscriminate force, including alleged enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings” when dealing with national security suspects.

He said an expert in Bangladeshi law will tell the hearing: “Terrorism suspects are regularly subject to arbitrary detention and reportedly killed in shootouts”, while the country’s Prime Minister declared a “zero tolerance” approach to extremism in July last year.

Mr Hickman added that leaving Ms Begum in the Syrian camp would also be a breach of her human rights by the British government.

He said the UN had found conditions in the camp to be “deeply substandard” while Medecins San Frontieres had deemed it “alarmingly bad”.

“Conditions are wretched and squalid, humanitarian conditions are dire, and the camps are significantly over-crowded”, Mr Hickman said.

Former Home Secretary Sajid Javid revoked Ms Begum's British citizenship. (PA)

He added that foreign nationals in the refugee camps who are suspected of terrorism have been transferred to Iraq where they “face torture and unfair trials resulting in the death penalty”.

Ms Begum fled to Syria to join Islamic State with two schoolfriends in 2015, marrying a jihadi fighter called Yago Riedijk within days of arriving in the terrorist caliphate.

The former Bethnal Green Academy student was found in a northern Syria refugee camp in February this year by a Times reporter. She had two children with Riedijk who both died, while a third child was born in the refugee camp but also died after her case came to prominence.

The British government has claimed Ms Begum has Bangladeshi citizenship through her parents, but the Bangladeshi government has spoken out to deny the claim.

Mr Hickman told the tribunal: “She is not considered a national of Bangladesh under the operation of its law and was therefore rendered stateless by the deprivation decision.”

Shamima Begum and her baby during an interview with ITV news. (ITV)

He said the Supreme Court of Bangladesh “would determine that (she) did not automatically acquire Bangladeshi citizenship have been born outside Bangladesh as a UK citizen by birth”.

And he added there was “no realistic prospect“ of citizenship being granted, especially as the country’s courts “not independent” and often back the government in high-profile cases.

Mr Hickman argued the tribunal must overturn the UK government’s decision as Ms Begum will otherwise be without a nationality.

He also argued removing Ms Begum’s citizenship was unlawful as she has no prospect of being able to take part in her own appeal.

The Home Office is opposing the appeal. Today’s hearing is largely being conducted in private to preserve the anonymity of an expert witness.

The special commission, in front of Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing, is due to hear the case for the rest of this week. The hearing continues.