UK citizens could face 10 years in prison for traveling to Syria under new law

UK citizens could face 10 years in prison for traveling to Syria under new law
UK nationals could be banned from Syria's Idlib and northeastern provinces - or even the entire country - under a controversial new counter-terrorism law.
3 min read
20 May, 2019
The law also criminalises viewing online content 'related to terrorism' [Anadolu]

British citizens could face up to 10 years in prison if they travel to Syria under a controversial new counter-terrorism law, Home Secretary Sajid Javid will announce on Monday.

The new act allows the UK to ban nationals from travelling to, or remaining in, certain areas.

Javid is expected to tell Britons based in Syria that they should be "on notice" to leave, or risk facing up to 10 years in prison.

The home secretary will tell senior security officials in London on Monday how he plans to use the new Counter-terrorism and Border Security Act which came into force last month, BBC reported.

The law has already faced criticism from rights campaigners who say the home secretary's increased powers will mean a crackdown on the freedoms of expression and the press.

It also grants border guards broader powers for stop-and-search on the grounds of "hostile state activity" and criminalises viewing online content related to terrorism - even if viewed for research or journalistic purposes.

Under the new law, Britons may not be banned from all areas of Syria.

"I've asked my officials to work closely with the police and intelligence agencies to urgently review the case for exercising this power in relation to Syria, with a particular focus on Idlib and the north east," Javid is expected to say.

"So anyone who is in these areas without a legitimate reason should be on notice."

Syrian forces and their Russian allies have stepped up airstrikes and shelling in the rebel-controlled Idlib region since late April, raising alarm over a possible looming full-on offensive by Damascus to seize the territory.

About three million people, at least half of them refugees, live in Idlib, the largest area still outside the control of the Syrian regime.

The Russian army on Sunday announced that regime forces had declared a unilateral ceasefire in Idlib, putting at least a temporary halt to hostilities in the province.     

Hundreds of Britons are thought to have travelled to Idlib and Syria's north east, which is majority controlled by Kurdish forces.

While some of those UK citizens ostensibly traveled to Syria as humanitarian workers, others have fought for extremist groups, such as the Islamic State group, or among the Kurdish YPG forces.

An estimated 900 UK nationals are thought to have travelled to Syria to join IS, around 40 percent of whom are presumed to still be in the region, Javid told parliament in February.

Among a number of former British nationals stripped of their citizenship after traveling to Syria - many of them suspected of joining IS - was aid worker Tauqir Sharif.

Sharif, currently stranded in Idlib with his wife and children, had his citizenship revoked in 2017 after the UK government accused him of links to Al-Qaeda.

Javid is also expected to emphasise the UK's need for international co-operation in fighting terrorism.

"More than any other country on Earth, the UK has a coherent, connected approach to intelligence and security and when threats appear, the world still turns to the UK for leadership, support, and action,” he will say.

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