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Eight people were deported on 30 January and 1 February 2018 from Bahrain to Iraq’s southern Shiite city of Najaf. They had been stripped of their nationality in 2012, along with 23 other Bahraini activists and human rights lawyers on charges of damaging national security. Citizenship revocation and forced exile are the main tools the authorities use to prevent peaceful protest.
Revoking the citizenship of a Bahraini, even if he or she does not have dual citizenship, was made possible in 2012, after protests broke out against the authorities a year earlier. The decision was made to amend the citizenship law to authorize the revocation for individuals who engage in acts deemed ‘disloyal’ to the state. In July 2013, anti-terrorism laws were also amended to include provisions for the revocation of an individual’s nationality. These changes came after the king accepted recommendations from the National Assembly, including limiting the recognition of human rights in the country, more extreme sentencing requirements for individuals convicted under the anti-terrorism laws and the banning of protests.
Located between Saudi Arabia and its archrival Iran, Shiite-majority Bahrain has been ruled for more than 200 years by the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty. Between 2011 and 2014, protests were led by predominantly Shiite opposition groups, initially aimed at gaining greater political and social freedoms. Their demands expanded to calls to end the monarchy, following a deadly night raid on 17 February 2011 against protesters in the capital Manama. A court dissolved the main opposition party, al-Wefaq, in July 2016, accusing it of fostering violence and ‘terrorism’. Less than a year later, the main secular opposition group, the National Democratic Action Society (Waad), which was accused of ‘advocating violence, supporting terrorism and incitement to encourage crimes’ by the government, was also dissolved. The government generally regards the opposition as terrorists and spies, even alleging that the former leader of al-Wefaq had conspired with Qatar, and that the party had ties with Shiite religious leaders in Iran and Iraq.
The 31 people sentenced in 2012 “were targeted for exercising basic human rights like free expression, including Ibrahim Karimi, who would later be imprisoned and expelled for posting tweets, and Jalal and Jawad Fairooz, former members of parliament from the now-closed al-Wefaq opposition group”, Husain Abdulla, executive director of the organization American Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, told Fanack Chronicle. “Now, the new deportees – Adnan Kanan; Abdulnabi Almosawi, his wife Maryam Ebrahim and his brothers Muhammad and Abdulamir Almosawi; Ebrahim Khalil Darwish and his brother Ismaeel Khalil Darwish; and Habib Darwish – have been forcibly expelled to Iraq. At least one of the individuals, Ismaeel Khalil Darwish, was previously detained and reportedly tortured by the government after participating in a protest. Though the deportees tried to mount a legal challenge to their original citizenship revocation, the courts rejected it.”
This decision constitutes an arbitrary measure that violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain ratified in 2006. It also contravenes Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has all the rights and freedoms laid out in the declaration, as well as Article 15, which states that everyone has a right to a nationality and should not be deprived of it.
Yet these revocations and expulsions are not the only problem facing dissidents in Bahrain. All human rights defenders are being targeted through different means. “Nearly 600 people have had their citizenship stripped over the last six years, a mix of people, some of whom are peaceful critics of the government,” Brian Dooley, senior adviser at Human Rights First, told Fanack Chronicle. “The last 12-18 months have seen a real crash in human rights in Bahrain. Things were already bad, but now we see human rights activists who weren’t in jail put in prison, the opposition groups banned, the only independent newspaper closed down, executions have resumed after many years and the prospects for reconciliation are further away than ever.”
It also targets activists living outside the country, like Husain Abdalla from ADHRB. “The government has also included several dozen individuals accused of links to known extremist groups like the Islamic State in mass denationalization orders, alongside nonviolent activists,” Abdalla said. “It’s difficult to see this as anything but a transparent attempt to conflate actual terrorism with human rights work or peaceful political opposition.”
More than 570 people have had their Bahraini nationality revoked over the last six years, around 150 of those in 2017 alone. The country has just over 650,000 citizens. The majority of those targeted are rendered stateless, and are ultimately deported to Iraq, Lebanon or Iran. “While still in Bahrain, they are suddenly unable to own property or open bank counts, access health care and social services, or enroll for education,” Abdalla said. As women in Bahrain cannot pass their nationality to their husband and children, this also can affect an activist’s entire family. “It’s very hard to manage without a nationality. The right is enshrined in international law, but without a passport or other documents, it’s going to make these people’s lives a misery,” Dooley added.
Faced with this new reality, human rights defenders such as Khalid Ibrahim, executive director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, have appealed to the international community. “We need some real pressure on the government of Bahrain, otherwise it is not going to improve at all,” he said.
However, it seems that the international community is looking the other way. “Bahrain’s powerful backers … aren’t doing much to stop these and other abuses,” Dooley said. Bahrain has close relationships with the United States and Britain, both of which have naval bases in the kingdom.
Amnesty International said in September 2017 that the UK has done little or nothing to investigate reprisal attacks against people in Bahrain, following protests mounted by Bahrainis in the UK. In the meantime, the US has continued to arm the country’s government.
If the US and UK refuse to take action, it will be up to other members of the international community to prevent further human rights abuses in Bahrain. Any sign of protest is unimaginable these days, shattering the hopes for change of thousands of people.