Bahrain revokes citizenship of activists

Bahrain has revoked the nationality of 31 activists, citing them as a threat to “national security” as the Gulf state’s crackdown on dissent intensifies. The official news agency published a list of those whose nationality had been revoked, including political leaders, such as Saeed Shehabi
who lives in exile in London, and Jalal and Jawad Fairooz, two former parliamentarians from the main Shia opposition party, Al-Wefaq.

The government said its decision was in line with the citizenship law that allows it to reconsider nationality if a Bahraini damages national security. The decision can be appealed. It is unclear whether those in Bahrain will be expelled. The move marks another step up by government hardliners seeking to broaden the suppression of both the official opposition and youths on the streets. “This is a totally inhumane and unwarranted measure that exposes the real mindset of the government,” said Ali Alaswad, a former Al-Wefaq member of parliament, who now campaigns from London. “We have not seen such a sustained attack on the opposition since the period of military rule in 2011.”

Backed by Gulf troops led by Saudi Arabia, the minority Sunni ruling family quashed large pro-democracy demonstrations led by the majority Shia. In December 2011, the neighbouring United Arab Emirates revoked the nationality of seven Islamists, also because of allegations of
undermining state security. That decision was part of its campaign against political Islam in the UAE that has since included the arrest of more than 60 Islamists. Bahrain, after an alleged pro-Iran coup attempt in the early 1980s, used exile as a tactic against its political opponents, according to Amnesty International. Dissidents who tried to return in the 1990s were often refused re-entry into the Gulf state.

Today’s decision marks the first stripping of nationality since the unrest of February and March 2011, which the western ally has also tried to blame on interference from the Islamic republic. Other activists have chosen self-imposed exile to escape what they describe as continuing persecution in a country that hosts the US navy’s Fifth Fleet. Hardliners have been calling over the past month for tougher tactics against Shia youths, who have upped their tactics from stone-throwing to more deadly improvised explosive devices. The government has responded by banning all demonstrations. An independent commission last year investigated and slammed the
security forces for the excessive use of force and systematic torture. The government says it has since implemented reforms to assuage international concerns about its human rights record, but the opposition says repression continues. Bahrain’s western allies have been calling on the government and opposition to sit down and discuss their political differences. The government wants the opposition to condemn all violence as radical Shia elements use increasingly violent tactics in their daily confrontations with the police. Leaders of five opposition groups on Wednesday signed a non-violent principles agreement at a press conference at the headquarters of Wefaq.

By Simeon Kerr in Erbil, Iraq Curtsey: Financial Times