The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its concern at the authorities' arbitrary policies, such as the detention of the Bahraini football player from Ettifaq FC, Mahmoud Ahmed Khawouri. He has been detained for over 23 months by the Department of Citizenship, Passports and Residency, because he does not have a passport or Bahraini citizenship.
His family has informed BCHR that Khawouri, 23 years old, was arrested on 29 April 2013 as a result of pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011. The First Tier Criminal Court accused him of unlawful assembly and rioting, and ordered him to be detained for a year. He served the sentence until April 2014 – but his family was shocked when he was then transferred to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID), and then to an immigration deportation centre, rather than being released. The family learned that this was because he had not obtained Bahraini citizenship or a passport, even though he was born in Bahrain and had not left the country since birth. He has been held in the detention centre for the past two years, despite concerted efforts by his family and human rights organizations to bring about his release.
Khawouri is the third son of a Bahraini woman and a man with Iranian citizenship who has lived in Bahrain for over 50 years. Bahraini law doesn’t allow the Bahraini mother to transfer her nationality to her children. As such, Khawouri, who was born in Bahrain and lived there with his siblings, does not have not citizenship. He has studied in government schools, never traveled out of Bahrain and plays with Bahrain's Ettifaq FC. He worked with his father in the central market until he was arrested in April 2013. The Khawouri family alleges that the young man was subject to torture and ill treatment while detained at the CID, in order to force him to confess to the crimes of which he was accused. They also say he was deprived of his right to legal representation during his interrogation. Following ongoing back and forth negotiations, the Department of Citizenship, Passports and Residency ordered the family to get papers from the Iranian embassy to show that Khawouri is an Iranian national. However, the Iranian embassy refused to do this, as they consider him to be a Bahraini national, not an Iranian, because he was born in Bahrain to a Bahraini mother, and he has lived his whole life in the country. He has never set foot in Iran, and there are no official documents to support the assertion that he is Iranian.
In February 2016, Khawouri's mother took documents containing the aforementioned facts to the detention centre, but they were not taken into consideration. Khawouri has spent two years in detention despite the fact that his mother and other citizens have put forward sufficient sureties for him to remain in Bahrain, along the lines of foreign workers residing in the country. In recent months Khawouri has developed a skin condition due to the unsanitary conditions in which he is held.
The Bahraini government has prevented many people born to Bahraini mothers, including people with Iranian heritage or a Shia background, from getting Bahraini citizenship. This is clear discrimination and marginalization. At the same time, the Bahraini government is also naturalizing large numbers of foreigners who were not born in Bahrain and do not have Bahraini fathers.
The Bahraini government is forcing Khawouri to choose between two options: deportation or remaining in prison for the rest of his life, not because of a crime he committed but because the government is preventing him from accessing citizenship in the country in which he was born, and where his mother is a citizen. Bahraini law only gives fathers the right to pass on citizenship to their children, which is a clear violation of women's rights and human rights according to international conventions.
BCHR has issued a report about people denied naturalization in Bahrain, either those who have had their citizenship revoked by a court after being convicted of crimes relating to popular protests demanding political reform and human rights, or those whose citizenship has been stripped by administrative orders from the Interior Ministry. Others have been denied the opportunity to claim Bahraini citizenship because their father has been imprisoned, or is wanted by the security forces due to political activity.
In 2015, UN rapporteurs on cultural and human rights and freedom of religion said that a study carried out in 2008 showed that around 2,000 families living in Bahrain are prevented from accessing citizenship. Many of them are from the Shia community, and according to the law have the right to claim Bahraini citizenship. It is also alleged that the majority of these people are non-Arabs, the ethnic group the majority of whose members are Shia. It is probable that, due to this discrimination, Shia and non-Arab residents remain in the lowest social and economic class. They are likely to be subject to other human rights violations, such as restrictions on their right to education, healthcare and housing.
Depriving these people of citizenship is a discriminatory government policy. Imprisonment for lack of citizenship violates international agreements and laws which stress the right to naturalisation, such as Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to a nationality, and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.”
International human rights covenants also demand that all states put in place procedures to prevent people from being made stateless, by granting citizenship to individuals born in their territory or to citizens who would otherwise be left stateless. Those who are stateless are prevented from owning or selling property, and are not allowed to access housing, social benefits or free healthcare. They also face challenges in accessing legal representation, registering for education services and getting jobs. The biggest challenge, though, is the legal prosecution they face due to “illegal residency,” despite their efforts to find a surety to stay in the country as is the case with foreign workers. This means they are at risk of deportation.
Based on the above, BCHR demands the authorities do the following:
- Immediately and unconditionally release Mahmoud Khawouri from his arbitrary and unlawful detention;
- Grant Khawouri Bahraini citizenship, which is his legitimate right due to his mother's Bahraini nationality and his birth and life-long residency in Bahrain;
- Release all those detained under similar circumstances;
- Provide fair and just treatment of people involved in nationality and naturalisation cases, which must be considered fairly regardless of ethnic or religious background; and
- Respect international laws and human rights covenants and their stipulations around rights to nationality and to change nationality.