Facebook backs down after wrongly banning me

Last Friday, Facebook took down an article posted on my journalism Facebook page. The article, published by The Guardian, argued against a judgment of the Supreme Court. The UK’s highest court ruled that Shamima Begum – a teenager who ran away to Syria to join Isis – is not entitled to have her British citizenship restored and that she should not be allowed to return to the UK to fight her case in person.

The court unanimously agreed with the decision of the then home secretary, Sajid Javid, that Ms Begum would represent a threat to UK security if allowed to return. The judgment reversed a decision of the Court of Appeal last year that ruled that she should be allowed to return.

The Supreme Court, however, also ruled that Ms Begum’s legal fight over citizenship should be put ‘on pause’ until it is safer for her to take part in her appeal. So, her case is not concluded.

The article in The Guardian that I posted to Facebook was by Maya Foa, co-director of the charity, Reprieve. Ms Foa argued that many girls such as Shamima Begum “were trafficked to Syria as teenagers after being groomed by Isis online”. Ms Begum is now detained in “a dangerous and unstable Kurdish-run camp in Syria”, where she faces torture and execution.

Maya Foa explained:

“My organisation, Reprieve, is working to ensure these individuals are not subjected to capital punishment, and instead are returned to their home countries for, where necessary, a fair trial”.

Wrong decision

Other UK newspapers also argued that the Supreme Court made the wrong decision.

For example, the Daily Mail ran a piece by Amanda Platell arguing that, “As a teenager, Begum was brainwashed by a hideous ideology”. Ms Platell asked:

“Lord alive, what kind of risk does this 21-year-old — who would surely be watched closely by the authorities and the country at large were she ever to come home — pose?”

She added that forgiveness must remain the core of our Christian culture, especially for children. “She is British whether or not she has a passport. Paedophiles get lesser sentences than she has served in the hell of those camps.”

Ms Platell concluded, “The judges are wrong. Shamima must come home to face stiff British justice. How else can we be a nation that believes in redemption?”

Facebook’s community standards

There was nothing in The Guardian article published on their platform that broke Facebook’s Community Standards. But Facebook removed the article nonetheless, claiming that it promoted or supported “dangerous individuals and organisations”.

Of course, the article did no such thing.

Maya Foa’s opinion piece simply argued that Shamima Begum, as a young teenager, was the victim of grooming and trafficking, and should be allowed to have a fair trial. Furthermore, her charity, Reprieve, is hardly a ‘dangerous organisation’ – it is a respected human rights charity, registered by the UK’s Charity Commission, and on Facebook’s list of acceptable charities for their fund raising platform.(Indeed, my Facebook page raised over £1,000 for Reprieve with a donation button under the article, suggested and organised by Facebook, who pass the money onto them.)

After initially taking down the article, Facebook then allowed it to be reposted again on my Facebook journalism page, ‘Jon Danzig Writes’. Facebook also permitted almost 300 shares of the post, without taking it down again. But when I shared that very same post to my personal Facebook page, and to the Reasons2Rejoin Facebook page, those shares were removed by Facebook.

I was also then banned from Facebook for 48 hours, and Reasons2Rejoin banned from posting again for 30 days. Even though the original post remained intact – it was just my shares of that post that got removed. So, the Facebook robot censors were not consistent on this. Facebook even threatened that the Reasons2Rejoin page may face a permanent ban. All because of the share of this one article – that was not even written by me.

I appealed against both bans and, 48 hours later, they have been quietly lifted by Facebook, without even a notice from them. But apparently, that’s normal for Facebook; their embarrassed way of backing down without drawing more attention to themselves.

EU and human rights

Some readers of my Facebook pages have personally attacked me for posting the Guardian article, and commented that they are now withdrawing support for my campaign against Brexit, asserting that the Shamima Begum case had nothing to do with the EU or rejoining.

However, that is hardly correct. The European Union is based on a strong commitment to promoting and protecting human rights. Indeed, supporting human rights, including the European Convention on Human Rights, is a strict EU membership requirement.

For the past decade, it has been long-standing Conservative policy to repeal and replace the Human Rights Act, with a watered-down version, and even possibly to leave the European Convention on Human Rights. If the UK went ahead with such plans, it would be a bar to rejoining the European Union.

Although the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is entirely separate from the EU, the European Union has its own human rights legislation, ‘The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights’. The Charter brings together the fundamental rights of everyone living in the EU, including the rights protected by the ECHR. However, Brexit means that the Charter no longer forms part of UK law.

This is an ongoing issue between the UK and the EU. As the House of Commons Library pointed out in their report on Brexit and human rights:

“Human rights are likely to play a particularly significant role in any future agreement on security cooperation.

“Cooperation within the EU on criminal justice and security is based on the principle of ‘mutual recognition’ of decisions taken by Member States, underpinned by trust in the integrity of those decisions and the treatment of individuals.

“This trust is largely founded on adherence to ECHR standards”.

Breaches of human rights

The UK’s actions in the Shamima Begum case arguably breaches her human rights because:

1. Nationality is a human right.

The UK government’s removal of her British citizenship means that Shamima Begum is now stateless – a breach of her human rights. This right is widely recognised by, for example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and many other conventions.

The UK government argues that since Ms Begum’s mother is “believed to be a Bangladeshi national” she could apply for Bangladeshi citizenship. But Shamima Begum, born in the UK and a British citizen, was not a citizen of Bangladesh when the UK government removed her British citizenship. Furthermore, Bangladesh has categorically asserted that it refuses to offer her Bangladeshi citizenship or to let her enter the country. So, she is now stateless.

2. Under the European Convention on Human Rights, and therefore the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights, and our Human Rights Act, everyone has a right to a fair trial. But how can Shamima Begum have a fair trial if she cannot attend it – in person, or even remotely?

3. The European Convention on Human Rights, and therefore the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights, and our Human Rights Act, contains an absolute prohibition of torture. In addition, capital punishment is disallowed as, “Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law”.

Furthermore, ‘evidence’ obtained under the threat of torture is not admissible.

Can any statements made by Shamima Begum whilst she is detained in a camp that exposes her to the daily threat of torture and execution be used as reliable evidence, by the courts, or even by any readers here?

Attacks against me

I am, of course, disappointed and surprised that anyone should say they are withdrawing support for my campaigning journalism simply because I have stood up for the human rights of someone they regard as a terrorist.

I, for one, do not support any forms of terrorism.

But isn’t the point of human rights that they should give equal rights to ALL humans; to you and to me; even to criminals, and even to those humans we do not like? Once basic rights are taken away from one human, the basic protections for all humans are eroded. Yours. Mine. Everyone’s.

I wrote earlier that Shamima Begum’s human rights had been ‘arguably’ broken. Facebook wanted to close down those arguments on their platform. That was wrong. Fundamentally wrong. It is possible that my new post will again be taken down by Facebook, and I could face a permanent ban. So be it.

I am not going to back down on standing up for human rights, even if it means I can never post on Facebook again. I have submitted a substantial complaint to the new Facebook Oversight Board about the way Facebook took down my post and banned me.

  • Commentary and graphic by Jon Danzig
  • Jon Danzig is a campaigning journalist and film maker who specialises in writing about health, human rights, and Europe
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