The High Court of Australia ruled Wednesday that the Australian government’s attempt to strip a man convicted of terrorism offences is illegal.
The man, Abdul Benbrika, is an Algerian national who gained Australian citizenship in 1989. He was convicted of being part of a terrorist cell in 2008 after being exposed by Australia’s Operation Pendennis. Since then, he has been serving an extensive prison sentence, which was due to end in 2020.
However, due to the risk that Benbrika posed to Australia, the government took the unprecedented step of having him serve an extended post-sentence detention period. During this period, the Australian government attempted to have Benbrika’s citizenship revoked under the Australian Citizenship Act in order to extradite him to Algeria when his post-detention period ends. Benbrika appealed the government’s decision to strip him of his citizenship.
The High Court found that the government stripping Benbrika of his citizenship on these grounds was illegal. In a 4-3 split ruling, the majority took issue with how the government used the act by having Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, and Migrant Services Andrew Giles take away Benbrika’s citizenship. The majority believed that, based on the act, the only party that can take away the citizenship of an Australian is the judiciary and that it should be a right that is exclusive to it.
This follows the president set in the case of Delil Alexander, a Turkish-Australian dual citizen whom Australia attempted to strip of his citizenship after it was revealed that he had joined the Islamic state. In both cases, the courts found it inappropriate that the government could be the entity that strips the rights of an Australian citizen without trial or warning.
Public reaction to the decision has been mostly negative, with some calling the court’s lack of awareness over the danger Benbrika may pose dangerous.