Why is Bahrain revoking nationality of its citizens?

Saad Hasan

More than 900 people have been stripped of their citizenship since 2012 in what human rights groups say is political repression. When thinking of terrorism, Bahrain has barely been in the international spotlight. When it comes to the number of people killed by terrorists, the tiny archipelago in the Persian Gulf is safer than Sweden and the United States, according to the Global Terrorism Index of Sydney-based Institute of Economics and Peace.

Yet, terrorism or the fear of it is something the Bahraini state has repeatedly used over the years to revoke citizenship of its own people. This week, a court stripped 138 people of their nationality and sentenced them to jail terms ranging from three years to life imprisonment. They were accused of planning to blow up state installations, including oil facilities, and working for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“The government uses the banner of terrorism to justify the crackdown against dissidents,” Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei, the director of advocacy at UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, told TRT World. “It’s a political tool and they use terrorism to give it a legal cover.” Al Wadaei was a Bahraini national, but his citizenship was revoked four years ago along with 71 others for taking part in protests against the government. Bahrain also saw massive demonstration in 2011 when millions of people took to streets in Arab countries, demanding rights and political reforms. But Bahraini rulers, with the help of forces from neighbouring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, quickly put down the protests.

Flushing out discontent: Since 2012, Bahrain has stripped 990 people of their nationality, making them stateless and leaving them without any rights such as getting treatment at public hospitals, says AlWadaei. This year alone 180 people have been made stateless this way. While most of them are in jail, the government has expelled some of these people to Iraq and Lebanon.

Human rights organisations say Bahraini authorities have come to rely on revocation of nationality as a preferred tool of political repression. They have also criticised the intransparent nature of court trials as the accused lack access to lawyers and are often subjected to forced confessions. The “trial makes a mockery of justice and confirms an alarming pattern of convictions after unfair mass trials in Bahrain,” says Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf.

Those who have been targeted include activists, journalists, and politicians. This denaturalization has adverse effect on families of the people made stateless. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, an NGO, has documented more than a dozen cases where babies born to such individuals have faced difficulty in getting citizenship.

“My daughter was born in November 2017 as a stateless child without any fault of hers,” says AlWadaei. Under the Bahraini law, a child becomes a national only if the father is a citizen. Families of these men are also socially ostracized and face difficulty when it comes to renting a house or opening a bank account. Stateless people living in other countries such as the UK often have to wait years to receive nationality.