Australia admits misstep over Islamic State suspect [citizenship revocation and statelessness]

Finally publicly admitted:

Australia failed to make basic checks before stripping a suspected Islamic State fighter of his citizenship, a senior official said Wednesday, an admission likely to call into question the legality of the move.

The country last month striped Neil Prakash of citizenship after claiming he was Fijian — prompting strenuous denials from the authorities in Suva and an embarrassing diplomatic rift.

Prakash is accused of being a member of the IS jihadist group, and identified as the 12th Australian dual-national to lose their passport over terrorism links.

He is currently in Turkey facing charges of joining the organisation.

A parliamentary intelligence committee on Wednesday grilled Home Affairs officials on the issue, asking whether they verified his status with Fiji or consulted experts in Fijian law before revoking Prakash’s citizenship.

“No, we did not” admitted senior department official Linda Geddes.

If Prakash is neither Fijian nor Australian he would now be stateless in contravention of decades old UN accords and Australian law.

A Special Counsel advising the government told the parliamentary committee he offered “strong advice” on the case, but would not go into detail.

The move against Prakash was touted at the time by hardline Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton as the ruling Liberal Party eyed its base supporters and May elections.

But it created an awkward backdrop for a recent landmark Pacific visit by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Source: Australia admits misstep over Islamic State suspect

And in related news, lawyers express concern over expansion of Australian citizenship revocation policy towards those convicted of minor crimes:

Australian lawyers are afraid petty criminals and people participating in religious festivals could be rendered stateless under citizenship law changes aimed at homegrown terrorists.

Constitutional and human rights experts have also expressed grave concerns about the “irredeemable” bill being put forward by the federal government.

The Morrison government wants to be able to deport Australian-born extremists who are entitled to citizenship in another country.

But the Law Council of Australia fears the proposed powers would be disproportionately harsh and could breach international law.

Dual nationals sentenced to at least six years jail for terror offences can already be stripped of their Australian citizenship.

The coalition wants to scrap the six-year threshold and expand the range of offences it can rely upon.

The Law Council’s David Neal is urging the federal parliamentary intelligence committee to keep the existing triggers in place.

“Low-level offending, which is dealt with to finality in a local court, could be captured by laws that lead to citizenship cessation,” he told committee members in Canberra on Wednesday.

Dr Neal is also concerned the offence of “associating with a terrorist organisation” could capture people participating in legitimate social gatherings and religious festivals.

Constitutional expert George Williams believes tinkering with the bill could also capture religious pilgrims and business people who venture into politically-sensitive areas.

“There is no actual involvement in terrorism, there is no suggestion of disloyalty, but that would trigger under this legislation the possibility of revocation,” he told the committee.

Professor Williams said the bill would have a range of “extreme and unjustified” consequences and could make the community less safe.

“In fact, it may do some harm, particularly in the broader agenda of building social cohesion.”

The laws would also significantly lower the threshold around proving a person’s citizenship of another country.

Under the changes, the minister would only need to be “reasonably satisfied” a person may be entitled to citizenship elsewhere.

“As recent history demonstrates – in both the cases of members of parliament and the (Neil) Prakash case – determining existing foreign citizenship can be difficult,” Dr Neal said.

“Determinations based on predictions about future foreign citizenship – which may include decisions by foreign governments – are obviously fraught.”

The Morrison government sparked a diplomatic fight with Fiji over the summer break after stripping Prakash of his Australian citizenship.

The Islamic terrorist was born in Melbourne to a Fijian father but Fiji says he is not a citizen.

The federal government has indicated dual nationals who are stripped of their citizenship could languish indefinitely in immigration detention if other countries refuse to take them.

Source: Lawyers flag fears about citizenship laws

Fiji casts fresh doubt on decision to strip terrorist Neil Prakash of Australian citizenship

Almost comical in the Australian government’s ineptitude. A reminder of the challenges in determining whether or not someone slated for revocation is actually a citizen, or entitled to the citizenship, of another country:

Fijian officials have rejected claims Australian-born terrorist Neil Prakash is a citizen of their country, leading the Federal Opposition to label Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton as an embarrassment to the country.

Last month Mr Dutton revealed the Federal Government had revoked Prakash’s rights as an Australian citizen because of his affiliation with the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group.

The Federal Government argued it could strip his citizenship because it had “clear advice” he had, or was entitled to, Fijian citizenship.

Prakash was born in Melbourne to a Fijian father and Cambodian mother. He is currently in jail in Turkey, awaiting trial on multiple terror charges.

Now Fiji’s Immigration Director Nemani Vuniwaqa has told the ABC there is no evidence of Prakash or his parents ever being Fijian citizens.

“[There are] no records of Mr Prakash being a Fiji citizen,” he said.

“We do not have any records of his immediate family either, unless if it was provided to the Department.”

Fijian law states the children of a former citizen can apply for citizenship, provided that one of their parents was still a citizen at the time of their birth.

In an indication of how Canberra has handled the matter, Mr Vuniwaqa said he had not received any communication from the Australian Government about Prakash’s case.

“I first received info from a local media source who quoted that Mr Prakash had been stripped off his Australian citizenship,” he said.

“There was no formal communication with regards to the plans by the Australian Government.”

The ABC understands the Federal Government communicated with the Fijian Foreign Ministry about the case.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is making an official visit to Fiji next week, where the matter will likely be discussed.

Shadow Immigration Minister Shayne Neumann said Mr Dutton had badly mishandled the situation.

“Peter Dutton didn’t consult, or have his department consult with the Fijian Government before he announced that he was stripping this terrorist of citizenship.

“Peter Dutton is a shameless, self-serving media tart on this issue and what he’s done is embarrassed himself, has embarrassed the Prime Minister, embarrassed our country, and in a week’s time Prime Minister Morrison has to go to Fiji to sort out Peter Dutton’s mess.”

The Federal Government is standing by its decision.

“Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has been very clear in his comments about Neil Prakash, he’s made it clear what the Government’s position is,” cabinet minister Paul Fletcher said.

“He’s also made it clear he’s not going to be providing a running commentary on this matter.”

Legal experts said if Prakash was not Fijian, the Australian government’s decision would be invalid.

“If he isn’t a citizen or a national of another country other than Australia then it’s beyond statutory authority,” Rayner Thwaites, a senior law lecturer from the University of Sydney said.

“It’s as if the citizenship deprivation hadn’t happened, it would not have effect.”

Source: Fiji casts fresh doubt on decision to strip terrorist Neil Prakash of Australian citizenship