Citizenship Stripping as a Security Measure: Towards more Inequality?

 Title: Citizenship Stripping as a Security Measure: Towards more Inequality?
Organizers: T.M.C. Asser Instituut / Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion
Speakers:Dr. Christophe Paulussen, Dr. Laura van Waas, Jawad Fairooz


Citizenship stripping as a security measure is increasingly used, but do we know what this means in practice? How does it affect the lives of real people? How widespread is its use and is it in conformity with international law? Moreover, can it be seen as an effective counter-terrorism measure or will it lead to more inequality and less security in the long run? This session will address all these different perspectives and will start with the impressive story of Jawad Fairooz, a Bahraini MP who was stripped of his citizenship and made stateless, and who now lives in exile in the UK.


unnamed-2It’s been six years since I was stripped of my Bahraini nationality and officially became a stateless. I was one of the first victims of Bahrain’s citizenship revocation, but not the only one. Since 2012, one year after the pro-democracy uprising occurred in February 2011, the Bahraini government has used citizenship as a weapon for political punishment.

In 2012, Bahrain revoked the nationality of 31 people, including me and my brother, who had also been a member of parliament. This number dramatically increased to 208 in 2015 alone, and 232 this year. In total, 738 Bahraini nationals have been revoked their citizenship in the past 7 years.

The justification the Bahraini authorities has made regarding almost all these 700 cases is always the same: to protect the country and its citizens from extremists and terrorists. But is this really the case? Do these measures have any legal basis? This is what I’d like to speak about today.

In August 2006, the King of Bahrain ratified Law No. 58 of 2006 on ‘Protection of Society from Terrorist Acts’. This law had four main problems.

First of all, the definition of terrorism was very broad. As the UN Special Rapporteur wrote to the Bahraini government at that time, the law included a broad range of acts as “terrorism”, which did not have any intention to cause death or serious physical injuries, or even just holding materials advocating terrorism, for instance. The authorities manipulated broad terms with vague ambiguities such as “infringement to national unity” or “stirring sedition”.

Secondly, all articles relevant to security crimes mentioned in the law were already found in the Bahraini Penal Code. There was no need or reason for issuing a new law. It was only used as a pretext to empower the Public Prosecution and the judicial authority.

Moreover, the law was ratified without due process. In April 2005, the Bahraini authorities presented the proposed anti-terrorism law as an alternative to the Penal Code and gave it the urgency to be passed by the Council of Representatives. Ten MPs soon withdrew to protest against the proposed-law, which was a de facto state security law, and the Council of Representatives immediately rushed through the law. This kind of arbitrary ratification happened again with its amended law in 2013 and 2014, when the Bahraini authorities passed the revised law without consulting the Council of Representatives.

unnamed-3Last but not least, Bahrain’s Anti-terrorism Law is incompatible with international standard. The Special Rapporteur Martin Schein called to review the law and encouraged the executive and legislative bodies to make amendments to this law to bring it into conformity with international human rights law that prohibits the abuse of loose definition of terrorism in national legislation.

Nearly ten years after the Anti-terrorism Law was enacted, the Bahraini authorities have exploited the law in intimidating citizens from exercising civil and political rights through severe punishments of death, forced deportation, life imprisonment, and prolonged detention as well as enforced disappearance.

The most serious punishment is, as we discuss today, the revocation of citizenship. In Bahrain, the citizenship revocation has been officially formalised in 2014, when the Bahraini authorities amended the 1963 Citizenship Law to allow the government to withdraw citizenship from those who were charged on terrorist-related activities.

Making a person stateless is clearly prohibited by international law. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a nationality” and “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality.”

Nevertheless, this amendment of Citizenship Law as well as the Anti-terrorism Law have been a powerful legal basis for the Bahraini authorities to accuse activists, politicians, clerics, and journalists of terrorists acts and arbitrarily revoke their nationality. Most of these people, however, never committed a crime or prosecuted. They are punished for exercising their right to free speech, freedom of assembly and association.

The revocation of citizenship in Bahrain often follows and is followed by arrests, detentions, interrogations and criminal charges, causing serious human rights violations. Citizenship revocation has profoundly affected the lives and wellbeing of hundreds of Bahraini nationals. Under the threat of citizenship revocation, Bahrainis have been restricted in the exercise of their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, and freedom of religion and belief.

Citizenship is the most basic and fundamental right of every individual. It is a right of rights; a right which, when possessed, could unlock other rights, and whose absence erodes enjoyment of all rights and protection. Thus, losing one’s nationality means a social death. The possession of citizenship should not be understood as privilege or reward for allegiance, and its revocation should not be wielded as a weapon of control and oppression.