Ac­tivists find fault with West in Bahrain’s cit­i­zen­ship re­vo­ca­tions

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY KRIS­TEN CHICK for­eign@wash­

lon­don — The tiny is­land kingdom of Bahrain is in­creas­ingly turn­ing to a par­tic­u­larly dra­co­nian tool of re­pres­sion: strip­ping dis­si­dents of their cit­i­zen­ship.

Rights ac­tivists say au­thor­i­ties have re­voked the cit­i­zen­ship of 103 peo­ple so far this year, al­ready more than in 2016. All were con­victed of terrorism-re­lated crimes in tri­als that rights ac­tivists say lacked due process and trans­parency.

The pace of cit­i­zen­ship re­vo­ca­tions has in­creased amid an in­ten­si­fy­ing crack­down on op­po­si­tion. And ac­tivists charge that the si­lence of the West, par­tic­u­larly the United States and Bri­tain, has em­bold­ened au­thor­i­ties to press ahead with more re­pres­sive mea­sures than the kingdom has em­ployed since the re­sponse to mass protests in 2011.

“There’s ab­so­lutely zero pres­sure for them to re­form or do any­thing that’s less than re­pres­sive,” said Sayed Ahmed Al­wadaei, di­rec­tor of ad­vo­cacy at the Bahrain In­sti­tute for Rights and Democ­racy and one of those de­prived of his cit­i­zen­ship. That at­ti­tude was clear, he said, when Pres­i­dent Trump re­as­sured the king of Bahrain at a meet­ing in May that there would be no “strain” in their re­la­tion­ship.

was an in­di­ca­tor that hu­man rights is ab­so­lutely not part of the U.S. in­ter­ests,” Al­wadaei said.

An of­fi­cial at the Bahraini Em­bassy in Bri­tain said au­thor­i­ties re­voke cit­i­zen­ship “in the aim of pre­serv­ing se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity while coun­ter­ing threats of terrorism.”

“Re­vok­ing cit­i­zen­ship is only done in ac­cor­dance with the pro­vi­sions of the law, in cases where the per­son in­volved were en­gaged in ac­tiv­i­ties that has caused dam­age to the in­ter­est of the Kingdom and its na­tional se­cu­rity,” the of­fi­cial said in an email, re­spond­ing to ques­tions on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

Bahrain, an ar­chi­pel­ago in the Per­sian Gulf that is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, has a ma­jor­ity-Shi­ite pop­u­la­tion but is gov­erned by a Sunni monar­chy. In 2011, thou­sands of protesters de mand­ing demo­cratic re­forms were met with a bru­tal crack­down and mass ar­rests. In­ter­na­tional pres­sure led to an in­quiry that doc­u­mented al­le­ga­tions of tor­ture and vi­o­la­tions by se­cu­rity forces, and rec­om­mended re­forms.

But that pres­sure has largely evap­o­rated, and the gov­ern­ment has re­cently taken the crack­down to new lengths, dis­solv­ing po­lit­i­cal groups and the kingdom’s last independent news­pa­per. Many ac­tivists and op­po­si­tion fig­ures have been jailed, and se­cu­rity forces killed five protesters in a raid on a demon­stra­tion in May.

The kingdom has stripped 451 peo­ple of their cit­i­zen­ship since 2012, ac­cord­ing to a tally kept by the rights in­sti­tute. Many are ac­tivists who are out­spo­ken about demo­cratic re­forms and hu­man rights abuses. Last year, au­thor­i­ties with­drew the cit­i­zen­ship of the kingdom’s most prom­i­nent Shi­ite cleric, Sheikh Isa Qas­sim. But oth­ers say they have done lit­tle to draw at­ten­tion to them­selves.

Bahrain is not alone in the prac­tice: other gulf coun­tries, in­clud­ing Qatar, the United Arab Emi­rates and Kuwait, have done the same.

Bahrain has ex­pelled many of those de­prived of their cit­i­zen­ship, cre­at­ing a grow­ing band of ex­iles. Those who re­main in the kingdom live as state­less peo­ple in their own coun­try. With­out iden­tity doc­u­ments, sim­ply driv­ing across an is­land dot­ted with po­lice check­points can be a dan­ger­ous propo­si­tion. All lose ac­cess to state pen­sions and state ser­vices in­clud­ing health care, as well as the abil­ity to man­age their prop­erty. They can­not reg­is­ter the births of their chil­dren, which means their off­spring also can­not get ac­cess to state ser­vices. Most of those de­prived of their cit­i­zen­ship this year are in prison af­ter be­ing con­victed un­der Bahrain’s anti-terrorism law.

“It’s a way of killing your iden­tity, your ex­is­tence,” said Ali Ab­d­ule­mam, a blog­ger and ac­tivist whose cit­i­zen­ship was re­voked in 2015. He now lives in Bri­tain, where he was granted asy­lum. “Some­one thinks he has the author­ity to tell me that I don’t be­long to my home­land.”

Rights ac­tivists say Bahrain’s jus­tice sys­tem has lost all cred­i­bil­ity. “The con­cern that we would have is the jus­tice sys­tem in Bahrain has proven it­self ut­terly in­ca­pable of pro­vid­ing any­body a fair trial, no­tably in terrorism cases. So the ver­dicts that they’re de­liv­er­ing sim­ply can­not be re­lied upon ei­ther way,” said Ni­cholas McGee­han, a Mid­dle East re­searcher for Hu­man Rights Watch.

Hu­man rights ac­tivists ac­knowl­edge that vi­o­lent at­tacks on po­lice oc­cur but say au­thor­i­ties round up groups of un­in­volved peo­ple and charge them with com­mit­ting such acts.

Bahrain has close re­la­tion­ships with the United States and Bri­tain, which also has a naval base in the kingdom. A Bri­tish For­eign Of­fice spokes­woman said in a state­ment that the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment had raised with the Bahraini gov­ern­ment Bri­tain’s “con­cerns” about the de­pri­va­tion of cit­i­zen­ship but de­fended the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two.

“The U.K. works closely with Bahrain in a num­ber of ar­eas, and we see our sup­port as the most con­struc­tive way to achieve lon­glast­ing and sus­tain­able re­form,” the spokes­woman said.

The United States is “con­cerned” about the cit­i­zen­ship re­vo­ca­tions, a State De­part­ment of­fi­cial said in a state­ment. “We have raised this is­sue with Bahraini of­fi­cials and con­tinue to strongly urge the gov­ern­ment to re­spect and pro­tect hu­man rights,” the of­fi­cial said.

That’s lit­tle com­fort to those who have been made state­less. Many of them say one of the most dif­fi­cult con­se­quences is the ef­fect on their fam­i­lies.

Ab­d­ule­mam’s wife gave birth to a son in March. Be­cause na­tion­al­ity in Bahrain is passed through the fa­ther, the child was state­less from birth. “I feel so bad that this kid is be­ing pun­ished be­cause of no crime he com­mit­ted . . . . He’s be­ing pun­ished be­cause of his dad,” Ab­d­ule­mam said. “This is painful on me.”


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