Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bahrain: What became of the 31 Bahrainis who lost their citizenship last year?


Bahrain Center for Human Rights
One year has passed since 31 Bahrainis had their citizenships revoked as retribution for exercising their right to freedom of expression. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its concern over the authorities' continued attacks on opposition activists, former members of parliament, clerics, and others.

On 7 November 2012, the owner of the Twitter account @7areghum, a cyber vigilante reportedly aligned to the authorities in Bahrain, posted on his Twitter timeline the names of 31 citizens whom he stated will have their citizenship revoked. Approximately 20 minutes later, the government issued a statement with the same list confirming the revocation of their citizenship.

As a result of the authorities' baseless decision, these individuals have been stripped of benefits that citizens would normally enjoy in Bahrain, such as inexpensive housing and free health care. The Ministry of Interior has changed the official information related to their nationalities from "Bahraini" to "No Nationality" or "Unknown."

Hussain Al-Mosawi and Mariam Sayed Ebrahim, a couple who had their citizenship stripped away from, had their passports and identification cards held by the authorities therefore restricting their right to freedom of movement. On 14 November 2012, the Minister of Justice banned Taimoor Karimi, a lawyer whose nationality was revoked, from attending court on behalf of his clients.

According to reports, Shaikh Hussain Najati, a cleric who also belongs to the group of 31 Bahrainis, has been continously pressured by the authorities to leave the country. This is not the first time Shaikh Najati's citizenship has been revoked. In September 2010, the authorities stripped him and his family from their citizenships, stating that "Najati, his wife and his children received their passports in violation of the provision of both national and passport laws." In November 2010, a royal decree was issued re-granting him and his family Bahraini citizenship, only for it to be revoked again a year later.

Ebrahim Karimi is the only individual amongst those whose citizenships were revoked to appeal against the decision in court; the process has been difficult. His case is still sitting in the High Administrative Court after being postponed several times. The last postponement was on 30 October 2013, when the defense protested against not being provided a copy of a document that the State's representative submitted to court in the last hearing session.

The court postponed the previous session to study this document, however, it did not provide the defense with a copy. Lawyer Mohammed Al-Tajer stated that "in today's hearing [that was held on 30 October], we objected for not being given a copy of the document that was presented to court." On 11 December 2012, Karimi was prevented from finalizing the process to appoint a lawyer and was told that the system rejected his application.

BCHR believes that revoking the citizenship of these 31 individuals is an act of retribution for exercising their rights to freedom of expression. This case also demonstrates the government's targeting of a certain sect as all the concerned individuals are Shiite. By revoking the citizenship of these individuals, the Bahraini authorities are violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, "no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of nationality."

Moreover, it should be noted that the government of Bahrain has used the revocation of citizenship as a tool to punish dissenters in popular uprisings for decades. In the 1980's the Emir revoked the citizenship of a large number of individuals and deported many of them. Similarly, during the uprising in the 1990's, many opposition activists were also stripped of their citizenships.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and all allies of Bahrain to pressure the authorities to:
  • immediately reinstate full citizenship for each of the 31 individuals above;
  • end the practice of revoking citizenship as retribution for exercising the right to freedom of expression;
  • allow the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to visit Bahrain.