The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has documented the practice of revoking nationality as a tool to punish political opponents and their families, creating the need to highlight the important issue of statelessness in Bahrain. In addition to the cases documented in its report Stateless in Bahrain, released in September 2014, the BCHR has continued to document cases of revoked citizenship.
Recently, on 11 June 2015, the First Higher Criminal Court in Bahrain stripped 56 people of their nationality and ordered them to pay fines ranging from 500 Bahrain Dinars (USD $1,330) to 10,500 Bahrain Dinars (USD $28,000). The defendants were tried under the terrorism law of 2006, and accused of engaging in “terrorist” activities in Bahrain. More specifically, they were charged with allegedly establishing a terrorist group called “Al-Ashtar Brigades” which smuggled firearms into Bahrain and ran training camps in Bahrain in order to plan a terrorist attack between 2012 and 2013. Four of the accused were acquitted.
It is important to mention that, at the time of the alleged criminal activity, nine of the defendants who were sentenced fall under the category of children, under the age of 18, including two 15-year-old boys. The BCHR has documented the arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance and acts of torture against detainees who are among this group.
For instance, Sadiq Jafar Al-Asfoor (17 years old at the time of arrest in January 2014) was subjected to enforced disappearance for over 15 days after being targeted and shot by live bullets when he was arrested by the police. He was injured in his kidneys, stomach, and back, however he was moved to prison facilities where he has reported not being provided with proper medical care. Al-Asfoor has received a sentence of 15-years’ imprisonment and citizenship revocation.
Ahmed Abdulla Al-Arab (16 years old) is yet another case of enforced disappearance in 2015. His mother reported seeing torture marks over his face when she was allowed to visit him. Ahmed has been sentenced to 10 years and citizenship revocation.
Among the adult defendants in the case, Redha Al-Ghasra was reportedly beaten at time of arrest in April 2014, and his family reported seeing bruising, scratches and lacerations on his chest when they were allowed to visit him in May 2014. He also had severe pain in his ear as a result of torture. Al-Ghasra has been sentenced to a life sentence and a fine of 10,500 Bahrain Dinars (USD $28,000).
Moreover, Ali Haroun was forcefully extradited from an immigration detention center in Bangkok, Thailand into the custody of authorities in Bahrain, where he has reportedly been subjected to torture, beaten, forced to stand in stress positions, and deprived of food, water and sleep until he signed a coerced confession stating that he had been involved in the explosion in Bani Jamra. Harouni has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and citizenship revocation.
Ahmed Mohamed Al-Arab was detained and subjected to enforced disappearance for 21 days, during which time he was tortured to the point of suffering long-term injuries. Al-Arab was sentenced to a life sentence, and citizenship revocation.
As in many other cases, the court that has sentenced these defendants has failed to investigate their torture allegations. The BCHR believes that every person should be guaranteed the fundamental human right to a fair trial.
The torture and long imprisonment sentences based on coerced confessions of children is in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) of which Bahrain is a signatory. Article 37b of the CRC states that “No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” The BCHR has in 2014 documented over 400 cases of children that are currently detained, depriving them of basic rights such as the right to health, the right to development of the child, the right to protection from all forms of physical or mental violence, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to education and the right to freedom from torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment - all of which are enshrined in the CRC articles 3, 6, 19, 27, 28 and 37, respectively. The above cases demonstrate the harsh treatment that many of the sentenced children have been subjected to in recent times and describes a pattern of prosecuting children in Bahrain.
Additionally, an arbitrary revocation of nationality is in violation the CRC article 8, which says, “States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.”
Furthermore, the majority of those convicted will now be left stateless, which contravenes the provisions of article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which states that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality.”
The 1963 Bahraini Citizenship Act includes a provision to remove citizenship from anyone involved in “harming the interests of the kingdom or behaving in a way that contradicts the duty of loyalty towards it." However, “such provisions of the Citizenship Act and its use as a legal tool to target dissent and anti-regime protesters is against international human rights provisions, and it demonstrates the nature of reform Bahrain claims to be implementing,” said Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafdah, Vice President of BCHR. Since the beginning of the uprising in 2011, Bahraini authorities have revoked the citizenships of several people involved in protests or alleged to be in support of various pro-democracy campaigns. With the latest sentences, the total has reached 128 revoked nationalities in 2015 alone.
Based on the above, the BCHR calls on the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and all other close allies and concerned international institutions to exercise real pressure on the government of Bahrain to:
- Obey its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and amend the Citizenship Act to be in compliance with set international human rights provisions;
- Restore citizenship to all citizens who were unfairly stripped of their nationality without recourse to due process in law;
- Halt unfair verdicts and the policy of citizenship revocation used as a punishment against critics and dissidents practicing their right to freedom of opinion and expression; and
- Join and adhere to the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.