LONDON: British nationals who claim they were detained and tortured after having their citizenships revoked from abroad have penned a letter opposing a controversial bill being debated in UK Parliament.
Politicians in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the UK’s legislature, are considering the Nationality and Borders Bill, the ninth clause of which would give the government the right to remove a person’s citizenship without warning.
If the bill passes, the government would no longer have to give notice of a decision to strip citizenship if it was not “reasonably practicable.”
The proposal is at odds with international law, which states that every person has the right to a nationality and that people cannot be left stateless.
Ten Britons who had their UK citizenship stripped over the past decade, and say they have been stranded across the world with no citizenship of another country, have used the letter, organized by advocacy group Cage, to ask for a fairer process in citizenship removal cases, The Independent reported on Wednesday.
Deniz Solak was stripped of his British citizenship in 2015 before he was acquitted of any involvement in terrorist activity two years later in a Turkish court, while Tauqir Sharif was stripped of his citizenship in 2017 and accused of links to a group aligned with Al-Qaeda, a charge he denies.
Some of the signatories to the open letter have also been accused of belonging to a terrorist group, which was used to justify the removal of their citizenship. But none have faced trial in the UK for their alleged crimes.
“If we, or anyone else for that matter, has committed a crime, we simply ask for our day in court where we are given the opportunity to challenge the evidence against us,” they said in the letter.
“The current policy of using ‘secret evidence’ and ‘secret courts’ equips the government and the security services to operate as judge, jury and, in some cases, executioner against us.
“We do not enjoy the support or protection of any country in the world; we are essentially stateless. In practice, this means that some of us have suffered detention, imprisonment and torture with complete impunity,” they added.
Anger at the potential expansion of the government’s powers has grown in Britain, and the letter’s signatories said that they had been “overwhelmed” by the public opposition to the bill.
The debate surrounding the bill follows the high-profile case of Shamima Begum, who traveled to Syria from her London home aged 15 in 2015 to join Daesh and marry a fighter from the terror group.
She was stripped of her British citizenship and deemed a risk to national security shortly after being found pregnant in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.
Begum denies involvement in any terror activity.
Anas Mustapha of Cage told The Independent that citizenship deprivation was an “egregious violation” as it not only exiled a person from their home, but also rendered them “entirely without rights and vulnerable to abuse.”
He added: “It’s crucial that the voice of the survivors of the current draconian citizenship policies are heard; it brings sharply into focus the absolute impunity the UK Home Office operates with when applying this power.
“The Nationality and Borders Bill will further cement and extend these powers, to enable the Home Office to deprive people more freely. This undermines equal citizenship for all and places ethnic minority Britons as forever second-class citizens. Rolling back these powers is therefore a question of equal citizenship rights first and foremost.”
Fahad Ansari, a solicitor acting on behalf of four of the letter’s other signatories, said: “Despite never even being charged with a terrorist offense, my clients have been subjected to the severest penalty of being stripped of their citizenship and sent into exile.
“The oppressive nature of this power can be assessed from the fact that this type of punishment would not be open to a sentencing judge to pass if my clients had been convicted of the greatest acts of mass murder.”
In response to criticism of the Nationality and Borders Bill, the Home Office refused to apologize for the removal of citizenship of “terrorists, those involved in serious organized crime and other individuals who have turned their back on the UK and wish to harm us,” a spokesperson said.
“Citizenship deprivation only happens after careful consideration of advice from officials and lawyers, and in accordance with international law. Each case is assessed individually and always comes with the right to appeal,” they added.