Although some legal experts say she is eligible, Bangladesh has again rejected opening its doors to a British-born woman of Bangladeshi descent who joined the Islamic State militant group at age 15 and has been stripped of her U.K. citizenship as a result.
Shamima Begum, now 20 and living at a camp in Syria, lost an appeal last week against the British government’s decision to remove her citizenship. A special tribunal upheld the move’s legality, saying it did not make her stateless because she could seek Bangladeshi citizenship because her father was born in the South Asian nation.
“Her father is a Bangladeshi national. So, according to our citizenship law, Shamima Begum is eligible for getting Bangladeshi citizenship,” Shafique Ahmed, a barrister and former law minister from Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League government, told BenarNews.
Any person whose father or grandfather was born within the territory of what is now Bangladesh can apply for citizenship, he said, citing the Citizenship Act of 1951, which dates to when Bangladesh was part of Pakistan.
“[Shamima] should apply to the Bangladesh authorities for citizenship, but the decision belongs to the government,” he said.
“The government can consider her application to grant citizenship, provided she must be under strict watch,” Ahmed said.
He was alluding to when Begum became radicalized and left England to join Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate in the Middle East five years ago, but also said she was known to have since become repentant about that decision.
Assaduzaman Khan Kamal, Bangladesh’s home minister, agreed that Begum would be eligible but said it would not matter.
“Shamima is not a Bangladeshi citizen. She was a British citizen. She joined the Islamic State and that is why the British government revoked her citizenship. We will not allow her to get Bangladeshi citizenship,” the minister told BenarNews on Tuesday.
“Yes, she may have the right to apply before the government for citizenship. But we also have the right to reject her application. Why should we admit a person as a Bangladeshi national whom the U.K. rejected for terrorism?” he said.
In February 2019, Bangladesh’s government said it would not allow Begum to enter the country. Her case came to light then through an interview she gave to BBC News from a refugee camp in Syria, shortly before Islamic State’s last bastion there fell to Syrian Kurdish forces.
In the TV interview, Begum, then 19, pleaded to British authorities to allow her to return to the country of her birth. But she was criticized for making comments during the interview, where she seemed to justify an IS-linked suicide bombing that killed 23 people at a concert hall in Manchester in May 2017.
In the days leading up to the interview, Britain’s Home Office notified Begum’s mother that it was stripping her daughter of her U.K. citizenship.
Shamima Begum’s father, Ahmad Ali, a Bangladeshi national who has returned to his ancestral town of Sunamganj after emigrating to Britain in the mid-1970s, said the family was working with an English solicitor to weigh the legal options left in his daughter’s case.
“We are also examining the position of Bangladesh government,” Ali, 61, told BenarNews.
“I am not sure what punishment she may get if tried in Bangladesh,” he said of Begum, the youngest of his four daughters. Shamima Begum’s mother, Asma Akhter, is a British national living with the couple’s other daughters in East London.
‘A gross violation’
Meanwhile, community groups and activists in Bangladesh are pressing their government to consider granting Begum citizenship and allowing her into the country.
Nur Khan, a former executive director of Ain-O-Salish Kendra, a Bangladeshi human rights advocacy group, criticized the British decision to deprive Begum of her U.K. citizenship.
“Making a person stateless is a gross violation of human rights,” he told BenarNews.
“Shamima could have made a mistake by involving herself in the terrorist outfit, IS. But this … does not allow any government to revoke her citizenship. I hope both the British and Bangladesh governments will understand it,” he said.
In his view, the young woman now languishing in a Syrian camp could contribute in a big way to Bangladesh’s counterterrorism and de-radicalization efforts.
“We can utilize her to disseminate the message that terrorism cannot bring any good to the human civilization,” Khan said. “If launched, such a campaign would have a profound positive impact on the youths.”
In July 2016, five young Bangladeshi men carried out the country’s deadliest terrorist attack to date, an overnight siege at a café in Dhaka that left 29 people dead. The Islamic State claimed responsibility but Home Minister Khan and other senior government officials have adamantly denied that IS has any presence in Bangladesh.
Begum made a mistake by joining IS “without understanding that the Islamic State is completely against the spirit and guidelines of Islam,” said Hafez A.B.M. Hezbullah, a professor of Islamic studies at the Islamic University in Kushtia.
“According to the Quran, any person who becomes repentant after committing any crime is eligible for getting mercy. So, from the Islamic point of view, Shamima can be pardoned,” he told BenarNews.
However, another leading Islamic scholar in Bangladesh offered a different opinion.
“This is true that a repentant person can get mercy, but it is hard to decide whether Shamima is genuinely repentant,” Maulana Farid Uddin Masud told BenarNews.
“Usually, we see very few people actually change from within.”