Voices: Shamima Begum deserves a fair trial – now more so than ever

·4-min read
We have always known that Shamima was not a dangerous aggressor but a foolish teen brainwashed by online propaganda, material and doctrine created by men (ITV)
We have always known that Shamima was not a dangerous aggressor but a foolish teen brainwashed by online propaganda, material and doctrine created by men (ITV)

The abuse of the childhood and young lives of vulnerable women for the pleasure and personal gain of men is the constant, rumbling undertone of our news agenda. From the county lines and child sexual abuse gangs operating in the poorest wards of the country to the exploitation of privilege seen in the case of Jeffrey Epstein: girls and women are failed time and again by a system that protects men over their safety.

Now we learn that Shamima Begum, the teenager from Bethnal Green, east London who left the UK for Syria to join the Islamic State group at the height of the Syrian conflict, was aided by a Western spy working for Canada and with the knowledge of both the Canadian and British states. The story is not speculation or conjecture: it is multiple-sourced, confirmed and reported today in The Times and by the BBC. But, of course, “Canada and the UK declined to comment on security issues.”

We have always known that Shamima was not a dangerous aggressor but a foolish teen brainwashed by online propaganda, material and doctrine created by men. She was a child grappling with her emerging identity as a British Muslim in an area of London still riven by racism and social segregation. It is one of the poorest boroughs in the country. The conditions for her exploitation were rife. Now we also know that, on top of these acute emotional pressures, she was also a victim of state-approved people trafficking.

In the years since her departure from Luton airport, Shamima has lost her family, she has birthed and buried three tiny babies in extreme poverty, and she has been stripped of her British citizenship. She has no recourse to justice in the UK. She has endured endless trauma, events that will mark her for as long as she lives – a life that even now is being shortened by the appalling conditions in which she dwells as a stateless convict inside the al-Roj detention camp in northeast Syria. She has lost all her rights for the protection of that elusive, abstract goal of Western national security. If it’s so legally and politically straightforward to rob a child of her life, at what price do we gain this “security”?

That is not to say that a teenager who is drawn, by forces malign, into support for criminality of the most barbaric and abhorrent kind should be allowed to elude justice. It’s not a zero-sum calculation. We may recognise that she committed a gross wrong and should rightly face punishment, while also demanding that she faces trial and punishment for those wrongs in the country of her birth, with her legal and human rights restored. That her trafficking to Syria hung on the expertise and connections of a double agent of the Western establishment would be a cornerstone of her defence, just as the public awareness of the brute horrors of Isis would provide the basis of her prosecution.

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The government has been aware of the engagement of the Canadian informant since mere hours after Shamima’s crossing of the border from Turkey into Syria, when international police were still hunting for her and her two friends. They knew that the transfer of a young girl to her certain misery and likely death had been aided and abetted by the very people they were relying on to protect the population – and yet, with reference to that knowledge, the Home Office still stripped her of her citizenship and with it every legal privilege that was her birthright. Why? Because the relationship between governments and informants was considered more important than the sanctity of a young life. More important than Shamima Begum’s future, her potential, her growth. Her abuse mattered nothing to the system.

Was it assumed that we would never hear of this detail? Now we have, justice must be handed down with absolute urgency. Bring her home, try her in an open court, let a jury decide her guilt. Let her serve her sentence, and let her be rehabilitated. Let her have access to the medical and mental health services she needs to address her experiences. Begum has lived a thousand lives already at the age of 23, but she has decades left and deserves the chance to make recompense.

But I make this plea into a void because the execution of true justice requires all the facts of her case to be heard in open court. And that will never be allowed to happen. Don’t ask why; the UK declines to comment on matters of security.