Bahrain: Stripping of Nationality a Weapon for Political Suppression
As you may know, on 6th November 2012, the Bahraini authorities stripped 31 Bahraini citizens, including myself a former Member of Parliament and Ex Elected Councillor, of the Bahraini citizenship. Out of the 31 there are, 2 Former Members of Parliament, 4 Religious Leaders, 8 Political Activists, 2 Human Rights Activists, 2 Media Activists, 2 Businessmen, 1 Lawyer, and 1 Woman. None of us were ever previously arrested for any criminal activity; we were simply vocal on Bahrain’s political crisis and the Bahraini Government’s actions and activities.
The vast majority became instantly stateless with no alternative citizenship. The consequences of such a decision affected us in all avenues of our life. A ban on travel was imposed, many were sacked from their previous jobs. We were no longer able to use the public services, which meant there was no health care, no housing and unemployment benefits or social allowances, or allowed to claim for any citizenship benefits. Even new-borns of the stripped citizens wereaswell barred from claiming the Bahrain citizenship, which happened to Adnan Kamal when he tried to make a form of identification for his daughter. It has now been two years since his daughter was born, and as of yet, she has no form of official identification! All of us have expressed the wide-ranging struggles and strains it has caused to both our family and our professional lives.
As you can imagine, we were left in a state of shock and disbelief, not only for the suddenness of the decision without being formally told, but the fact that we simply had no idea what the rationale was behind the decision as no investigations were carried out or what we can do to appeal. The reason widely reported on official Bahrain news agencies is that we were causing a “threat to national security”. The actual appeal mechanism was vaguely described in the news article that broke out the decision – that if you have an issue you should take it up with the judiciary.
Following a time of extreme confusion and failed attempts by us to seek an official and clear explanation, we were advised by many from the international community to try to exhaust all possible avenues in Bahrain’s judicial system. So one of the 31, IbrahimKarimi, submitted an appeal against the stripping decision in Bahrain’s appeal court. The case was submitted on 28th March 2013, and was wholly dismissed on 29th April 2014. The court unsatisfactorily stated a blanket excuse for the dismissal, giving the reason as simply that “the State has the right to take appropriate measures”. To compound the issue, no laws govern statelessness, and the newly drafted legislation still leaves the laws governing the situation of the 31 largely vague, allowing the Minister of Interior and judiciary powers to interpret the law whichever way they want.
Lawyers in Bahrain have voiced their concerns over the decision’s legal basis. The decision seemed to emanate solely from the Interior Minister who by Bahrain’s law and constitution cannot issue a revocation of citizenship judgment, unless by a decree from the King. Following such a revelation, the Interior Minister stated he had signed permission from the King to carry out such a decision which allowed him to circumvent the constitution and governing laws, and he further added that he would be presenting the document to the court. As of yet, no document has been submitted to evidence that this permission exists, nor is there any proof there is permission to begin with. The Interior Minister has been strongly avoiding the topic, in a shallow belief that the Bahraini people will forget or get over the violation.
The extent of this violation does not stop there. One of the stripped citizens, Ayatollah Najati a religious scholar, was threatened, harassed and later forcibly deported from Bahrain to Lebanon on the 23rd of April 2014. He was persistently pursued from the day of the revocation to his departure. Official news outletsrejoiced at his exile and further threats against the remaining stripped citizens were made demanding a similar fate.
Most recently on the 14th and 15th of July 2014, the stripped citizens that have remained in Bahrain, a total of 10, have been called in for investigation regarding their legal status and to update their information. Then they had a court case made against them accusing them of illegal stay for breaching asylum and immigration laws by remaining in the country!
Overall, the stripping of nationality of Bahraini citizens has been condemned by many caring and active human rights organizations and figures, such as the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Unfortunately, the wider international community did not mount enough pressure against the Bahraini authorities to reverse this unlawful decision, with diplomatic allies of Bahrain remaining quiet on the issue, giving the Bahraini authorities confidence to revoke even more citizenships from Bahraini citizens.
Hence, it comes as no surprise that the Bahraini authorities have again utilised this effective tool of suppression – the stripping of nationality – against more Bahraini people.
The latest targets of this oppressive violation are 9 Bahrainis who were politically active in the popular 2011 uprising, and were arrested and initially charged for the offences of “illegal gathering” and “attempting to escape prison”.
Their case was heard by Judge Ali Khalifa Al-Dhahrani on 6th August 2014. The judge inexplicably decided to charge them under Bahrain’s controversial and newly-modified terrorism laws. They were accused of alleged terrorist activities that entail an attempt to apparently establish a terrorist organisation.
This excuse allowed the judge more extreme powers, including the power to unilaterally strip a citizen of the Bahrain citizenship. He unsurprisingly used such powers, and decided to promptly revoke all their citizenships, whilst charging 4 with life sentences, and the remaining being sentenced between 5 to 10 years.
A Human Rights Watch report explained that the Bahraini authorities bizarrely identify classic peaceful protest tools as acts of terrorism. Thus, the majority of the population could be sentenced under Bahrain’s arbitrary terrorism laws, and hence the stripping of citizenship weapon hangs over the heads of any person that has previously expressed criticism of the Government – regardless of whether it was reasonable.
The mother of Ali Hassan Adam, one of the 9 newly stripped citizens, claims that her son, who studies abroad in Pune, has never been politically active in his life, and was arrested along with the other political activists simply because he was present on the day of the arrests.
I hope this time around, we can together mount significant and effective pressure against the Bahraini Government to rescind these unlawful decisions, and stop the use of stripping citizens of their citizenship as a weapon against dissent and political opposition.
Furthermore, we ask of Bahrain’s allies to finally come forward and properly condemn such oppressive violations, and distance themselves from relations with Bahrain until the Government stops utilising this repressive mechanism.
Bahrain Observatory Coalition for Human Rights (BHRO) NGO(s) without consultative status, also share the views expressed in this statement
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