Bahrain: critics and dissidents still face twin threat of statelessness and deportation

bahrain infographic

When we read about displaced people in the press, we usually hear about Syrian refugees fleeing IS or the one person per second displaced by natural disasters. We are less likely to be made aware of those who have become stateless through forced displacement.

Nationality is something most of us take for granted, but for the 10 million people worldwide who are effectively stateless, the issue is much less trivial.

Bahrain, in particular, has intensified the use of stripping citizenship from those who dissent or speak out in protest as a form of punishment. Since 2012 – when the country’s minister of the interior made 31 political activists stateless, many of whom were living in exile – 260 citizens have fallen victim, 208 in 2015 alone. Eleven juveniles, at least two of which have received life sentences, and 30 students are known to be among them.

Nationality is a fundamental right recognised in a series of international legal instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Bahrain is a signatory. The country repeatedly fails to comply with these obligations.

In 2014, new amendments to the country’s 1963 citizenship law further increased the power of the ministry of the interior and gave judges the authority to make anyone convicted under Bahrain’s anti-terrorism act, which fails to properly define terrorism, stateless.

In the case of Sayed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahraini Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and 71 others who were deprived of citizenship in January 2015, their “crimes” included vague terms such as “inciting and advocating regime change” to “defaming brotherly countries”.

Speaking to Index on Censorship, Alwadaei said: “Bahrain is setting up a dangerous precedent. No state has rendered as many of its citizens stateless in 2015. These revocations are politically motivated, and are becoming more common because they got away with it in 2012.”

“I was targeted because of my activism, and Bahrain considers human rights advocates as terrorists,” he added. “As I was not inside the country to face imprisonment, my nationality was the only way they could inflict pain on me. It was used as a tool to cause the maximum damage to stop my human rights work.”

While Alwadaei has not let the authorities take his identity, it does mean he is now stateless. “For my family, it means my infant son can’t have Bahraini citizenship, although his mother is also Bahraini.”

The danger for those made stateless inside Bahrain’s borders is that they do not have access to jobs, schools or health care and their bank accounts are closed, Alwadaei explains. “The people revoked of citizenship are at high risk of deportation by the court; many already have been under charges of  ‘illegal residency’.”

These instances are also increasing. Between 21 February and 20 March 2016, five stateless Bahrainis were deported. One of these was Hussain Khairallah, whose citizenship had been revoked since 2012. He had been a union organiser and one of the medics who treated wounded protesters during the Bahrain’s Bloody Thursday in February 2011 when security forces launched a pre-dawn raid to clear a protest camp at Pearl Roundabout in Manama.

Anyone speaking out against the authorities faces such risks.

These practices and threats should immediately cease and all those who have fallen victim should have their citizenship restored. It is their right.

Bahrain revokes citizenship of 31 activists

Bahrain is preparing for the first anniversary of the Bahrain Independent Commission for Inquiry (BICI) by placing even greater restrictions on free expression.

Rebellious Feb14 | Demotix

A Bahraini woman holds up the victory sign at a rally in May | Demotix

As violence escalates in the Gulf kingdom, the country’s government has taken new measures in the name of national security. According to an announcement made last night on the state-run Bahrain TV, the country’s government has decided to strip 31 activists of their citizenship for “being a threat to national security”. The list is mostly made up of political activists, including UK-based Saeed Shehabi and Ali Mushaima, who have been outspoken in criticising the country’s regime, and Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society member Jawad Fairouz, who was a member of parliament before resigning in protest of the country’s brutal response demonstrations that began on 14 February last year.

This is not a new tactic for Bahrain: The country also revoked the citizenship of outspoken activists in the 1980s and 1990s, forcing them into exile. The latest move, however, violates Article 17 of Bahrain’s 2002 constitution:

a. 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 such other cases as prescribed by law.

b. It is prohibited to banish a citizen from Bahrain or prevent him from returning to it.

The decision comes after the tragic death of two migrant workers and the injury of another on 5 November following a bomb blast in Bahrain’s capital, Manama. While none of the 31 activists have been linked to the explosion, Bahrain continues to make efforts to portray the country’s uprising as violent.

Earlier this year, the attention around the hunger strike of imprisoned human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and a brutal crackdown on protesters squashed Bahrain’s chances of whitewashing its public image with the Formula One race in April. After the BICI report was presented in November 2011, Bahrain’s government was determined to make the uprising history, but its unfulfilled pledges to reform came back to haunt it in the lead up to the race.

As Alkhawaja’s health deteriorated, the international community placed immense pressure on the Bahraini government to release him to Denmark, where he is also a citizen. Denmark granted Alkhawaja asylum in 1991, and the country’s government has been active in lobbying for his release. The activist moved back to Bahrain in 2001, and was jailed for his role in the country’s uprising in 2011. An editorial published in the Gulf Daily News in the race lead-up explored the “problem” of dual-citizens, claiming it was a “get out of jail free card” for criminals.

Bahrain’s failure to follow through on promised BICI-related reforms, as well as a disregard for its own constitution, signals a chilling next stage for the country.  The country’s most recent violence is testament to Bahrain’s failure to diffuse unrest with reforms, rather than force.

Sara Yasin is an editorial assistant at Index on Censorship. She tweets at @missyasin