Bahrain Strips 72 Citizens of their Nationality

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A Bahraini woman holds a placard reading in Arabic "Your government and your parliament without legitimacy" during an anti-government demonstration in the village of Jannusan, west of the capital Manama, on December 26, 2014. AFP/Mohammed al-Shaikh

Published Sunday, February 1, 2015

Western-backed Bahrain said Saturday it had revoked the citizenship of 72 people convicted of "harming the interests of the kingdom,” which has witnessed pro-democracy demonstrations since 2011.

The official BNA news agency said their nationality had been rescinded in a decree as part of measures to allegedly "preserve security and stability and fight the danger of terrorist threats.”

BNA published a list of names of the 72 people affected by the measure adopted by the interior ministry and approved by the cabinet.

"Proper legal procedures will be taken by the interior ministry to implement this decision," it added.

Information Minister Isa Abdulrahman al-Hammadi said that "most" of those deprived of their citizenship "are abroad and can challenge the decision legally.”

"They do not represent a single terrorist formation," he added, suggesting that those named do not belong to one single Muslim denomination.

Among the reasons for the decision, Hammadi cited "membership of terrorist cells and groups,” "financing terrorist acts,” "incitement to regime change through force" and "spreading deviant ideologies,” a reference to extremist Islamist groups.

Dozens of Bahrainis have had their citizenship revoked and several have also been deported since Bahrain adopted the Bahraini Citizenship Law last year stipulating that suspects convicted of "terrorist" acts could be stripped of their nationality.

“The Bahraini authorities are running out of arguments to justify repression. They are now resorting to extreme measures such as jail sentences and revoking nationality to quell dissent in the country, rather than allowing people to peacefully express their views,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director.

“Arbitrarily depriving these Bahrainis of their nationality and forcing them out of Bahrain renders them 'stateless' and goes contrary to Bahrain’s international obligations,” said Sahraoui.

Al-Wefaq, the kingdom's main opposition group, denounced the withdrawal of nationality, calling it "a weapon" used by the regime to "punish opponents.”

"Most of those deprived of their citizenship are opponents in exile," it added in a statement, estimating at around 50 the number of opposition activists it said supported "a democratic transition in Bahrain.”

The list also includes the names of "foreign fighters alleged to have links with Daesh", the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, which controls swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, al-Wefaq noted.

Al-Wefaq's leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, was arrested on December 28, a day after he, among other figures, led a peaceful rally near the capital Manama staged to protest against November's general elections, which the opposition boycotted, and call for the dismissal of both the parliament and the government.

Salman was accused of "insulting the judiciary and the executive branch,” of "sectarian incitement,” of "spreading false news likely to cause panic and undermine security" and "participation in events detrimental to the economy.”

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors sent troops into Bahrain in March 2011, reinforcing a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations that led to accusations of serious human rights violations.

The soft-spoken Salman, 49, is considered a moderate who has pushed for a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain unlike hardline groups who have demanded the toppling the al-Khalifa dynasty.

"We want a constitutional monarchy where the al-Khalifas would be the monarchs," Salman told AFP in May 2011, shortly after Bahrain's deadly crackdown on month-long protests.

"We said: The people want to reform the regime. We did not raise the slogan of toppling the regime," said the advocate of peaceful protests.

Human rights organizations said Salman’s arrest was a confiscation of “the right to freedom of expression and violating the right to freedom of association.”

Salman “is known to be a political and national figure that has always called for dialogue and peaceful procedures as clearly stated in The Non-Violence Principles Declaration. He also calls for the peaceful transfer of power according to what international treaties stipulate,” a group of human rights organizations said in a statement late December.

At least 89 people are estimated to have been killed and hundreds have been arrested and tried since peaceful protests erupted.

Political activists have been prosecuted by Bahraini authorities for attempting to voice out and expose gross human rights violations by al-Khalifa ruling family, which has been in power for over 200 years.

Despite the crackdown, Bahrain has yet to resolve the conflict between the monarchy and the opposition, which argues that the country’s Shia majority population is discriminated against.

In November, three Shia protesters were sentenced to 10 years in prison and stripped of their citizenship for allegedly planning to attack the police.

Their case followed that of another 18 deprived of their citizenship after the authorities in 2012 revoked the nationality of 31 Shias, a majority in the kingdom, for "endangering state security.”

In December, prominent Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, who has been sentenced to prison over a Tweet criticizing the kingdom, accused Bahrain’s ruling family of seeking to change the country’s demography by adopting a strategy similar to that used by the UK in the creation of Israel.

Rajab said the systematic naturalization of foreigners and the deportation of locals after revoking their citizenships are proof that al-Khalifa family is implementing the same strategy that Britain implemented in Palestine.

Besides revoking citizenships, Bahraini ruling family has been naturalizing foreigners since 2012 in an attempt to change the demographics of the country.

According to information Al-Akhbar received in 2014, the Bahraini authorities have granted tens of thousands of people, with certain characteristics and from designated countries, Bahraini citizenship, in an attempt to create a new sectarian majority, which would deny the Shia their rightful representation in the state’s institutions.

These tactics are similar to those used by the West to alter the demography of Palestine.

Washington is also a long-standing ally of the ruling al-Khalifa dynasty and Bahrain is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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