Bahrain strips three citizens of their nationality ahead of elections

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A Bahraini girl shows her hands knotted with a writing reading in Arabic "No to dictatorship" during an anti-government rally in the village of Diraz, west of Manama, on January 17, 2014 .(Photo: AFP - Mohammed Al-Shaikh)

Published Thursday, November 20, 2014

A court jailed three Bahrainis on Thursday and stripped them of their nationality for allegedly planning an attack against the Bahraini police, a judicial source said, a few days ahead of parliamentary elections.

The men were jailed for 10 years each for allegedly planning “an attack with explosives” on policemen in August 2013, the source said, adding that their nationality was also revoked.

Dozens of Bahrainis have had their citizenship revoked and several have also been deported since Bahrain adopted a law last year stipulating that suspects convicted of "terrorist" acts could be stripped of their nationality, a decision that has triggered condemnation by rights groups.

The Ministry of Interior in November 2012 revoked the nationality of 31 people in the name of the Bahrain Citizenship Law, “under which the nationality of a person can be revoked if he or she causes harm to state security,” Amnesty International said in a report.

“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.

According to the report, the new amendments to legislation in Bahrain broaden the reasons for which one’s nationality can be revoked. These now include anyone whose “acts contravene his duty of loyalty to the Kingdom,” those who take up another nationality without prior permission from the Ministry of Interior and individuals convicted of vaguely worded terrorism offenses.

These rulings are part of an ongoing clampdown on dissent in Bahrain.

With Saudi Arabia's help, Bahrain, ruled by an unelected monarchy, crushed peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations that began on February 14, 2011 but has yet to resolve the conflict between the population and the monarchy oppressing them.

Today, Bahrain has the distinction of being the country with the second highest prison population rate per 100,000 amongst Arab states in the West Asian and North African region.

The kingdom continues to detain over 2,000 Bahrainis who dared to challenge the al-Khalifa monarchy when the uprising erupted in 2011.

Over 200 minors are being held within these prisons, forced to stay side-by-side with adults, and a few have faced torture and sexual abuses.

Authorities ignored pleas by human rights groups to release political prisoners, instead increasing the punishment for violent crimes.

Attacks that cause death or injuries can now be met with capital punishment or life imprisonment.

It is worth noting that Washington is a long-standing ally of the ruling Khalifa dynasty, and Bahrain is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.

Opposition groups boycott elections

The latest verdicts come as Bahrain prepares to hold elections on Saturday without the participation of any opposition groups.

In October, the Manama administrative court ruled that Bahrain’s main opposition movement, al-Wefaq, had "violated the law on associations" and banned the party from any practices for three months.

The Bahraini opposition demand a "real" constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister who is independent from the ruling royal family.

But the US and Saudi-backed King Hamad Al-Khalifa, whose family has been in power for over 200 years, has refused to yield.

Even before the ban, al-Wefaq, along with other opposition groups, announced that it would boycott the November 22 election and called upon Bahrainis to boycott the elections.

The turnout on Saturday is expected to be low as, in the absence of opposition movements, candidates from Sunni-led movements will compete with independent hopefuls.

Bahrain, a majority Shia country but ruled by the Sunni royal family, has been buffeted by political unrest since 2011, with mostly Shia Bahrainis demanding democratic reforms and more say in government.

Campaigning has been subdued, even if the streets of the capital are festooned with election posters.

A rally organized by Adel al-Dhawadi, a candidate for the Islamic Forum party, outside Manama Wednesday attracted just a few dozen supporters.

"Everyone is free to participate in elections or to boycott them. But it is better to participate and get involved in change," said Salah Massameha, a retired academic who attended the gathering.

In addition to the Islamic Forum, which is close to Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafi al-Asalah and the National Unity Assembly will field some of the 266 contenders for the 40-member parliament.

'Elections won’t offer fair reflection of public opinion'

The general election will be the first since the 2011 protests, which saw al-Wefaq withdraw its 18 lawmakers after a violent crackdown on demonstrators by Saudi-backed Bahraini security forces.

They were later replaced in restricted polls in which the opposition refused to participate.

Analyst Ali Fakhro said the opposition boycott meant Bahrain's next parliament would not offer a fair reflection of public opinion.

Fakhro added that the candidates are mainly "businessmen and professionals who lack experience in politics" and will be unable to bridge social divides.

The rulers have consolidated their grip on power since the protests, when dozens of leading opposition activists were arrested and jailed.

Yet pockets of dissent remain.

Not long after the 2011 crackdown, demonstrators returned to the streets in spite of violent clashes with security forces.

Al-Wefaq always distanced itself from the violence, marketing its struggle as essentially peaceful.

Is Iran intervening?

Some fear Bahrain is caught between Iran and Saudi Arabia, even though the latter was the one to bluntly interfere in the internal affairs of its fellow oil-rich Gulf kingdom.

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

Abdullah al-Hawihy, head of the so-called central committee of the National Unity Assembly, accused the Bahraini opposition, which represents the vast majority of Bahrainis, of having an "Iranian (Persian) agenda in the Arab region.”

"Some want to push us towards a sectarian conflict," he added.

Hawihy also criticized the opposition election boycott.

"Those who do not take part will lose. It is under the dome of the parliament that we can discuss divisive issues," he said.

Al-Wefaq member Abdulmajeed al-Saba accused authorities of trying to "terrorize people into voting."

A government official dismissed the claim, saying that "the Bahraini people are more determined than ever to exercise their constitutional right to vote and reinforce the democratic experience despite certain calls for boycott.”

However, very few Bahrainis appear to share this enthusiasm.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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