Late BBC Journalist Hanna Yusuf Nominated Posthumously For Award Honoring Her Investigative Work

Photo: getty
Late BBC Journalist Hanna Yusuf Nominated Posthumously For Award Honoring Her Investigative Work

A young BBC journalist who passed away in October is now being honored posthumously. Hanna Yusuf, who first gained attention for her defense of wearing hijab, was a news writer and producer in England and had worked on major investigations.

But how did Hanna Yusuf die? Her family said only that she had passed away unexpectedly and didn't share further details. And though she was only 27 years old at the time of her passing, Yusuf is now shortlisted for a British Journalism Award, just one month after her passing.

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This young woman clearly had such a profound impact, with her coworkers and the BBC network remembering her work. But who was she?

1. She was Somalian.

According to her official bio, Yusuf was born in Somalia and emigrated to Europe when she was young.

"Hanna was born in Somalia in 1992," her bio reads. "After graduating from Queen Mary, University of London with BA Hons. French (with Spanish), she passed her MA in Newspaper Journalism with merit at City, University of London. When Hanna isn’t chasing scoops and thinking of new treatments for big stories, you can find her practising Jivamukti yoga or cycling through the Baarnse Bos in the Netherlands, where she grew up before becoming a Londoner."

2. And a feminist.

In 2015, when she was still a student, Yusuf gained notoriety for a video she made for The Guardian. In it, she explained her choice to wear hijab, the traditional head-covering that some Mulsim women wear.

"For many men, and non-hijabi women, this piece of clothing is the very epitome of oppression," she said in the video. "But in a world where a woman’s value has often reduced her sexual allure, what could be more empowering than rejecting that notion?" 

Yusuf went on to explain her view that choosing to dress differently than what the media portrays as the ideal of female appearance is a show of strength, inasmuch as making the choice to control your appearance is a show of strength.

"Yes, some might say there’s nothing inherently liberating in covering up, just as there’s noting inherently liberating in wearing next to nothing," she said. "But the liberation lies in the choice."

She then warned people not to assume that women wear hijab due to outside pressure: "By assuming that all veiled women are oppressed, we belittle the choice of those who want to wear it. Even when women are vocal about wanting to wear the hijab, they are conveniently unheard or silenced."

She reminded viewers that vilifying any sort of clothing and belittling those who choose to wear it is anti-feminist. She ended by saying, "The truth is that for many women, the hijab allows them to reclaim their bodies and have full control over them, and that makes a lot of people uncomfortable." 

3. She was a promising young journalist.

Yusuf reportedly spoke six languages, including Somali and Arabic. That aided her in work as an investigative journalist, working for outlets including the BBC, The Independent, and, The Times, ITV, BBC Three, The Muslim News, The National (UAE), and Grazia Magazine.

During her career, she spoke with whistleblowers and crime victims, and was proud of her clean record of protecting sources who wanted to maintain their anonymity. 

4. She spoke for other Muslim women.

While Yusuf decided to stop wearing hijab in the years after she made her video for The Guardian, she never lost her passion for advocating for the rights of Muslim women.

Earlier this year, she was one of the reporters writing about Shamima Begum, a British teen who ran away to Syria to join ISIS in 2015. When Begum later pleaded to come back to England, she was denied entry into her home country and told that her citizenship had been revoked.

Begun was born in Britain to parents of Bangladeshi heritage. She ran away at the age of 15 and joined ISIS cells in Turkey and Syria. Yusuf reported on the ways in which ISIS radicals had been reaching out to British teens and recruiting them to come to Turkey and Syria to join the Islamist movement. 

After leaving the UK, reports said that Begum had been deeply radical and participated fully in ISIS activities, possibly even helping suicide bombers. She married another European ISIS member and had three children. The elder two died before she escaped to a refugee camp with the youngest. There, she begged to come back to England.

However, in a media interview, she didn't fully renounce ISIS values, leading UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid to strip her of her citizenship and bar her from entry into the UK. The story, which Yusuf helped cover for the BBC, sparked an ongoing debate about the treatment of returning jihadists. 

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5. She passed away suddenly.

After her death, Yusuf's family released a statement saying, "We are deeply saddened and heartbroken by the passing of our beloved daughter, sister, and niece, Hanna Yusuf. Indeed, to God we belong and unto Him we shall return."

The family went on to say that her death was sudden and unexpected, and they asked for privacy. No cause of death has been reported. 

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6. BBC reacted to her death.

The New York Daily News reported that the BBC's Director of News, Fran Unsworth, said Yusuf was a "talented young journalist who was widely admired" and her death was "terrible news." 

Yusuf's friend and colleague Sophia Smith spoke admiringly of her, saying, “We have lost a fierce friend and a force for truth and light which stretched far beyond her journalism to the many lives she touched here at the BBC and beyond. We will make sure her legacy of compassionate storytelling rings loud and clear in the time to come and we are going to miss her so, so much.”

7. She's being honored.

Yusuf was nominated for the British Journalism Award, which, according to Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford, will “recognize the best journalists of the year regardless of the medium they work on — be it print, online or broadcasting."

Other nominees up for the award include Victoria Derbyshire of BBC Two, up for interviewer of the year, as well as LBC’s Eddie Mair, up for interviewer of the year. In addition, Clemence Michallon of The Independent is nominated for scoop of the year for his interview with Liam Neeson, where the actor admitted to wanting to kill a black man. Jim Waterson from The Guardian is also nominated for his story regarding Boris Johnson and police being called to his residence.

The Awards will be held on December 10th in London.

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Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.