Bahraini authorities have taken yet another action to further crackdown on the opposition and the Shia community in general, reports the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). On 20 June 2016, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) issued a statement announcing the revocation of the citizenship of a top Shia religious leader Sheikh Isa Qasim. The MOI cited Article 10/c of the Bahraini Nationality Law, to justify its decision to revoke citizenship “if he causes damage to the interest of the state or took action contrary to the duty or loyalty to it.”
Sheikh Qasim is the Shia Muslim community’s religious leader. He has been a leading figure in introducing democratic reforms in the country since the 1970s. In 1972, Sheikh Qasim became a member of the first Bahraini Parliament appointed with the highest percentage of votes. Sheikh Qasim also contributed to drafting the 1973 Bahraini constitution.
Today, on 20 June 2016, without any due process, the Bahraini authorities arbitrarily revoked the citizenship of Sheikh Qasim after accusing him of having allegedly “exploited the religious pulpit for political purposes.” Shortly following the decision, thousands of Sheikh Qasim’s supporters gathered in front of his house in Duraz in solidarity and to protest the decision. The gathering soon turned into a sit-in, and people vowed not to leave the area. The MOI threatened “against calls inciting security disturbances. Legal action will be taken against violators.” The area where the sit-in is staged is reported to be surrounded by a heavy security presence. The BCHR is extremely concerned over the wellbeing of those staging a sit-in in Duraz.
The BCHR has documented dozens of cases in the last six months in which the Bahraini government has rendered people stateless as a retaliation tactic against plitical dissent. In the last three days of May 2016 alone, BCHR reported on 33 sentences of citizenship revocation through both primary and appeal courts. Citizenship revocation has been in use since the pro-democracy uprisings in Bahrain in 2011. 31 people lost their citizenship through a ministerial order in 2012, while the number of citizenship revocation amounted to 21 cases of sentences in 2014. A staggering number of citizens were stripped of their Bahraini citizenship in 2015, when a ministerial order revoked the citizenship of 72 individuals. Based on BCHR’s documentation, evidence of a total number of at least 261 citizenship revocation cases has been brought to light since 2012.
Rendering the Shia Muslim leader Sheikh Qasim stateless is yet another blow to the freedom of speech and expression in Bahrain. it comes as part of an escalating crackdown on freedoms and rights in Bahrain, that has become noticeable since last week and following a rather long line of abuses that authorities have embarked on in order to silence all forms of criticism, and to curtail the opposition’s access to participating in Bahrain’s political decision-making.
On 13 Jun 2016, the Bahraini King promulgated a bill amending the 2005 Political Societies Law, which places a ban on participation in political decision-making based on discriminatory religious grounds, and prevents any religious figure who delivers a sermon from joining political societies or from participating in political activities. Within one week, the government has banned human rights activists from travel, arrested leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and sought to retaliate against all its critical opponents by closing Al-Wefaq, the largest political society in the country, on the same day the Ministry of Social Development closed down Al-Risala Islamic Society and the Islamic Enlightenment Society, two remaining bastions of the Shia Muslim community in Bahrain. Furthermore, toughening the sentence against Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary-General of Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society to nine years imprisonment from the previous four-year sentence, as well as summoning nine Shia clerics for interrogation on 15 June 2016 are meant to intimidate clerics and preachers who disagree with the anti-democratic Bahraini ruling apparatus.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the Bahrain government to:
- Immediately and unconditionally reinstate the nationality of Sheikh Isa Qasim and of all those who were stripped off their nationality on politically-motivated grounds since 2011;
- Put an end to the escalating crackdown on activists in Bahrain and release all political prisoners and human rights defenders such as Nabeel Rajab;
- Put an end to the use of security solutions to handle the growing political issues of Bahrain and take serious actions to start an actual, and not a superficial, dialogue to solve all the outstanding and controversial human rights files;
- End the use of citizenship revocation to punish political dissent;
- End the targeting of Shia clerics’ freedom of religious worship and freedom of expression;
- Allow the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and
- Accede to the 1954 Convention relating to Stateless Persons, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.