Bahrainis face loss of rights, deportation after citizenship revocations

A protester holds up a picture of Shia scholar Isa Qassim during an anti-government protest in the village of Diraz, west of Manama, November 2, 2012. Dozens of demonstrators took to the streets defying a ban on all rallies and gatherings made earlier this month. (Photo: Reuters)

Published Thursday, November 8, 2012

Scores of Bahrainis risk losing a range of social rights and face the prospect of deportation after the Interior Ministry announced it was stripping nationals who had “undermined national security” of their citizenship.

While all are Shia, several of the 31 listed as having lost their nationality are not vocally opposed to the government, and a significant portion of them are of Iranian descent, Al-Akhbar learned from opposition members Thursday.

Ayatollah Hussein Abdul Baqi, who was among those slated for citizenship removal, was one of those who had not spoken out against the Bahraini monarchy since the start of the February 14 uprising.

Two of those stripped of nationality are former MPs Jawad Fairooz and Jalal Fairooz, members of the leading opposition Wefaq party. Jawad was sentenced to jail on the same day the revocation statement was released, according to opposition sources.

"[The move] has created a situation where everyone feels that they could be targeted. Everyone is asking themselves if they're next," said head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights Maryam al-Khawaja.

Khawaja, who was herself born without citizenship after authorities sent her family into exile during a crackdown in the 1980s, adds that the move sends an especially strong message to those of Iranian descent. "It's telling them that the consequences of their dissent will be harsh," said Khawaja.

The citizenship revocations also appear to be devoid of legality since the Interior Ministry announced the move, not the country's monarch, King Hamad al-Khalifa. According to Bahraini law, only a monarch may take away a national's citizenship.

Citizenship revocations are not uncommon in Bahrain, having been carried out against many opponents of the government since the 1975 dissolution of the country's first parliament. However, most nationalities have since been restored to the activists, many of whom sought political asylum abroad.

“I will always feel that I belong to that land. No one can remove me psychologically, culturally, emotionally from it,” Saeed Shehabi, president of the Bahrain Freedom movement and one of the Bahrainis listed in the Interior Ministry's revocation statement, told Al-Akhbar.

Shehabi is currently in London where he lives in exile; he faces a life imprisonment sentence in Bahrain under “terrorism” charges. He says that while the revocations have not affected him and counterparts abroad, they will likely deprive Bahrainis inside the country of educational benefits, health care, legal protections, and restrict travel. They may also face deportation, as many political dissidents before them.

However, none of those listed in the revocation statement appear to have been harmed by the revocations thus far, according to opposition sources.

“This is just another way of trying to keep the anti-regime movement quiet,” said Shehabi.

“It is collective punishment and it will backfire on them.”

Shehabi says the Bahrainis inside the country listed in the revocation statement have taken the decision “bravely...it only confirms their conviction that the regime must change.”

The revocations are the latest in a wave of intensified efforts over the last two months to subdue a 20-month uprising against the country's monarchy. Bahraini authorities have arrested prominent opposition activists such as Nabeel Rajab, detained people for dissenting Twitter comments and passed a law to ban protests.

“The situation is unclear, and at the same time it's illegal,” said Ali Mushaima, another person listed in the revocation statement. Mushaima is a political activist whose father is serving a life sentence in a Bahraini prison.

“It's also reflective of this government's policy...it shows that the regime will only increase its dictatorship.”

According to the International Federation for Human Rights, 80 people have died in Bahrain since the start of the violence on 14 February last year.

Bahrain's interior ministry says more than 700 people, including a number of police officers, have been wounded in protests since the beginning of 2012.

(Al-Akhbar)

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