In the early morning of November 7, 2012, I was informed by a relative of mine that Radio Bahrain broadcasted a statement by the Minister of Interiors revoking citizenship of 31 persons including myself. The ministerial statement was brief. It just said that our citizenships have been revoked for causing ‘damages to state security’.
My first reaction to the ministerial statement focused on its flaws. Article 17 of the Bahraini constitution of 2002 states, among other things, that “Bahraini nationality shall be determined by law. A person inherently enjoying his Bahraini nationality cannot be stripped of his nationality except in case of treason and other cases as prescribed by law”. Applicable laws, at the time, made revocation of citizenship a royal prerogative left to the king himself, after he has exhausted certain requirements.
Except for that brief statement which was published subsequently in various local media, I have not received, directly or indirectly, any information from any government agency in Bahrain. In fact, I do not know, until now, what of my activities, the government of Bahrain considers as damaging to state security. Bahraini authorities have not offered an opportunity to defend myself against any of the secretly kept charges. Unfortunately, the first batch of 31 persons increased ten-folds since 2012.
In similarity with more than 300 persons whose citizenships have been revoked, I feel the injustice, the insult, and the pain of loosing a birthright. And, there are the unavoidable discomforts of having to adjust my personal and professional life to the new situation of not carrying a valid Bahraini passport and facing the constraints on my movement, particularly in the GCC region, due to being declared “a security risk”. My personal discomforts, however, are nothing compared to most of the Bahrainis whose citizenships have been revoked.
Loss of citizenship, however, has been most tragic in the case of those residing in Bahrain. They have to apply for residence permits, which they cannot get because they have no passports and do not qualify as considered as Bidoons. This legal limbo jeopardizes theirs and their children’s rights to social services, including education and health. Lawyers, medical doctors, clerics, teachers, consultants and other professionals have lost their right to practice. Living in legal limbo in Bahrain means that a person has no legal status. He/she cannot formally own real estate, or enjoy any of the social benefits of citizens including access to free health services. Children of stateless persons require a special permission to enroll at schools and universities.
Revocation of Citizenship as a Political Tool
The ministerial decree of November 7, 2012, revoking our citizenship has been widely criticized by local and international human rights watchdogs. Critics noted, among other things, that it contravenes Bahrain’s constitution, and among others, article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to a nationality” and, “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality.”
Bahraini government, however, remains adamant and continues implementing what has been presented as a policy of “zero-tolerance against those who threaten the nation”. Yet, it took some measures to placate international and domestic criticism. Those measures included rewriting relevant laws and streamlining procedures for their swift implementation. These measures have underscored the precarity of citizenship in Bahrain. Throughout the past four years, Bahraini government has enacted legislations and implemented policies to institutionalize revocation of citizenship as a political tool.
Backed by the legislative Council, the government proclaimed a decree that provides for the denaturalization of Bahrainis convicted of violating various provisions of the 2006 Anti-Terrorism Law. Further, on July 24, 2014, Bahrain’s Official Gazette published amendments to articles 9 and 10 of the Citizenship Law of 1963. The amended article 10 empowers Minister of Interior, with cabinet approval, to revoke the citizenship of a person who “aids or is involved in the service of a hostile state” or who “causes harm to the interests of the Kingdom or acts in a way that contravenes his duty of loyalty to it.” The amended article 9 obliges any individual who has been willingly naturalized by a foreign state without prior permission from the Interior Minister to either forfeit the foreign citizenship or submit, within six months, an application to Minister of Interior for permission to retain this citizenship.
With these amendments in place, Bahraini citizens may be stripped of their citizenship by decisions taken by any of three authorities, the king, minister of interior and the courts. The new decrees together with the amended laws were swiftly implemented by the courts. On August 6, 2014, a Bahrain court convicted nine persons to long prison sentences and stripped their citizenship on charges that included participation in an illegal organization and having ties to Iran. Another batch of nine persons received similar sentences on September 29, 2014. Notwithstanding these decisions by the courts, the majority of decisions to revoke citizenships continue to be made by the minister of interior.
Since 2014, the minister of interior has issued several decrees revoking citizenship of over 300 people. The current list of Bahrainis stripped of their citizenship includes names of bloggers, human rights activists, academics, journalists, former members of parliament, as well as alleged jihadists of the Islamic state. Most of these were not given a reasonable opportunity to contest in a court of law the charges held against them.
The extent of powers given to Ministry of Interior became evident through a statement issued on January 31, 2015 announcing revocation of citizenship of 72 person. The statement notes that the Ministry of Interior is responsible for protecting the security and stability of Bahrain and that “part of that responsibility is a duty to fight terrorism and identify those who engage, encourage or participate in such acts”. The statement also notes, “Each citizen of Bahrain has the responsibility to act in ways that do not harm the interests of the Kingdom.” The statement gives a list of illegal acts allegedly committed by the 72 persons whose citizenships have been revoked. The acts included in the list are:
- “ Spying for foreign countries and recruiting a number of persons through social media;
- Financing groups carrying terrorist operations;
- Defaming the image of the regime, inciting against the regime and spreading false news to hinder the rules of the constitution:
- Carrying out a series of explosions so as to subvert homeland security and terrorize citizens;
- Seeking to form a terrorist group, train them on the use of weapons to commit crimes;
- Smuggling weapons;
- Inciting and advocating regime change through illegal means.”
It is important to point out that none of the 72 persons named in that statement have been formally charged and tried by a proper court of law.
Citizenship as a Makrama
Use of citizenship as a political tool is not unique to Bahrain. Other ruling families in the rest of GCC countries also regard their citizens as subjects and require that they repeatedly show their loyalty. All ruling families in the GCC region do not consider citizenship as a birthright, and consider revocation of citizenship or passports as one their tools to control their subjects. In all these countries, the powers to grant, revoke and re-instate some one’s citizenship is part of the ruler’s prerogatives. Contentious naturalizations policies together with the persisting problem of the Bidoon, ‘stateless” are two manifestations of how the ruling families abuse their powers.
Precarity of citizenship across the GCC is a ramification of what Khouri describes as “dysfunctional citizen-state relations, which often reflect mutual contempt for the other by both sides, because they have never negotiated a sensible and equitable relationship that defines the use of state power for the wellbeing of all in society”. Within this dysfunctional relationship, citizenship becomes reduced to a makrama generously bestowed by a benign monarch on a loyal subject. Citizenship, whether seen as a formal identification instrument, as a marker of political belonging, or a social identity is contingent on the discretion of the ruler.
In spite of its precarity, citizenship, continue to provide the ruling family in Bahrain with an effective political tool. Citizenship, even when reduced to holding a passport, is actually gaining additional importance through two recent developments. The first is linked to the “collective naturalization” of military recruits from neighboring countries, as a means of securing expansion of the military and security bodies. The second is a consequence of the institutionalization of citizenship as a makrama and not as a birthright. Citizenship, reduced to holding a passport, becomes a reward for the naturalized recruits to security and defense agencies. Loss of citizenship, on the other hand, has become a routine punishment to actual or potential dissidents. The message is becoming clear one: a dissident is not a loyal citizen. To continue to enjoy privileges of citizenship, people must show loyalty to the ruling family.
- It states “According to clause (c) of Article (10) of the Citizenship Law which permits the re-evaluation of nationality when a holder of the Bahraini citizenship causes damage to state security, the Bahrain citizenship of the following individuals have been revoked…”. Bahrain News Agency, BNA, “Urgent: Statement by the Ministry of Interior”, 07/11/2012. http://www.bna.bh/portal/en/news/532098 (Accessed: 22/10/2016).
- See Bahraini Citizenship Act (last amended 1981), 16 September 1963, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3fb9f34f4.html (Accessed 22/10/2016).
- Letter Concerning Revocation of Citizenship of 31 Bahraini Nationals http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/8967/letter-concerning-revocation-of-citizenship-of-31- (Accessed 22/10/2016)
- See for example, Foreign Policy (August 18, 2015) “When Bahrain Says You’re Not Bahraini Anymore http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/08/18/when-bahrain-says-youre-not-bahraini-anymore/ (Accessed 22/10/2016)
- Bahrain Center for Human Rights (2014). “Stateless in Bahrain”, http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/7080 (Accessed 22/10/2016).
- See: Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (7 November 2012), “Joint Statement on the Revocation of Bahraini Citizenship from 31 People”, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/8317/joint-statement-on-the-revocation-of-bahraini-citi . (Accessed 22/10/2016)
- Freedom House, (7 November 2012) “Bahrain Revokes Citizenship for 31 Activists”. https://freedomhouse.org/article/bahrain-revokes-citizenship-31-activists#.VNCxkE10zcs. (Accessed 22/10/2016)
- Gulf Daily News, (9/11/2012) “Premier pledges zero-tolerance to ensure security”, http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/NewsDetails.aspx?storyid=341427 (Accessed 22/10/2016)
- BNA (31/1/2015 )”MOI Statement: 72 individuals stripped of citizenship” http://www.bna.bh/portal/en/news/651916 (Accessed 22/10/2016)
- Rami Khouri, “Dysfunctional citizen-state relations across the Arab world”. http://warincontext.org/2012/12/23/dysfunctional-citizen-state-relations-across-the-arab-world/ (Accessed 22/10/2016).