(Beirut) – Ten people whose Bahraini citizenship was withdrawn without due process are facing deportation or jail. They are among 31 people declared stateless in November 2012, allegedly for damaging state security. The others have left the country.

July 2014 amendments to Bahrain’s citizenship laws will grant the Interior Ministry additional authority to revoke citizenship of people who fail in their “duty of loyalty” to the state, a vaguely worded provision that could be used against government critics, Human Rights Watch said. Recent amendments to Bahrain’s counterterrorism law, in tandem with the recent failure of Bahrain’s criminal justice system to provide fair trials and deliver impartial verdicts, provide a further legal pretext for the arbitrary stripping of citizenship, in clear violation of international law.

“The Bahraini authorities’ latest repressive tactic is to invest themselves with further powers to arbitrarily strip critics of their citizenship,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “Bahrainis who dare speak out for change now risk not only arbitrary detention and torture but statelessness and deportation to an uncertain future.”

Bahrain should repeal laws that will allow authorities to strip Bahrainis of their nationality on grounds so vague as to be arbitrary, Human Rights Watch said. Bahrain should immediately restore the citizenship rights of the 10 people who face deportation and of the 21 others whose citizenship rights were removed without due process.

Bahraini authorities have either obstructed the right of appeal or refused to justify the decision to revoke the citizenship of the nine men and one woman who remain in the country. They have no residence permits and face charges of violating asylum and immigration law.

On August 10, the public prosecutor issued a court summons to one of the 10, Taimoor Karimi, a lawyer, for “violations of asylum and immigration law” that include remaining in Bahrain without the residence license that all non-nationals over 16 are required to have. Maryam and Sayed al-Mosawi, a married couple, had received similar summonses.

On July 13, the Immigration Directorate summoned Sayed al-Mosawi to a meeting and required him to sign a statement acknowledging that he had taken no action to find a “sponsor” and thus seek the status of a migrant worker. Under Bahrain’s sponsorship system, all migrant workers must have a sponsor, usually an employer, to whom their residency and employment in Bahrain are tied. The laws regulating the immigration and employment of non-nationals make no provision for stateless people, however.

Al-Mosawi told Human Rights Watch that the Immigration Directorate had confiscated his passport and national identification card in July 2012. “Apart from my driving license, I have nothing to prove I exist,” he said.

Adnan Kamal, another among the 10, told Human Rights Watch that the confiscation of his passport and his national identification card meant he has been unable to secure a passport or a national identification card for his 1-year-old daughter, Fathima.

The Interior Ministry said in November 2012 that the 31 people had been stripped of their nationality under article 10 of the Bahraini Citizenship Act of 1963 because it deemed them to have damaged state security. It said that they could appeal. But al-Mosawi and a Bahraini defense lawyer told Human Rights Watch that none of the 31 could appeal because the authorities removed their names from official databases, meaning that they had no legal status and could not give power of attorney to lawyers to lodge appeals on their behalf.

In January 2013, the Justice Ministry allowed 9 of the 31 to give power of attorney to a lawyer to file an appeal after Amnesty International intervened. The lawyer filed an appeal on behalf of Ibrahim Karimi, one of the 31, saying that revoking his citizenship is unconstitutional. Bahrain’s constitution states, in article 17, that Bahrain nationals cannot be stripped of their nationality “except in case of treason, and such other cases as prescribed by law.”

A court upheld the decision to revoke Karimi’s citizenship on April 29, 2014, stating that the decision was “intimately related to national security,” without any supporting evidence. It added that the administrative authority’s decision, which it was not obliged to justify, was “not subject to judicial oversight as long as its decisions are free from abuse of authority.” Karimi, who described himself as a political activist, told Human Rights Watch that he expected to be deported but did not know when.

On July 24, 2014, Bahrain’s Official Gazette published amendments to the Citizenship Law of 1963. Article 10 now permits the Interior Ministry, with cabinet approval, to strip the citizenship of a person who “aids or is involved in the service of a hostile state” or who “causes harm to the interests of the Kingdom or acts in a way that contravenes his duty of loyalty to it.”

Article 9 obliges any individual who has been willingly naturalized by a foreign state without prior permission from the Interior Minister to, within six months, either forfeit the foreign citizenship or submit an application to the minister for permission to retain this citizenship. In addition to the 31 people whose citizenship was revoked in 2012, on August 6, a Bahrain court stripped the citizenship of 9 out of 14 people convicted on charges that included participation in an illegal organization and having ties to Iran. Under the new law, the decision to revoke their citizenship will require the approval of the king.

The conviction was based on a July 31, 2013 legislative decree that provides for the denaturalization of Bahrainis convicted of violating various provisions of a 2006 counterterrorism law.

The judgment had not been made public, but Mohamed al-Tajer, the defense lawyer for three of the 14, told Human Rights Watch that the convictions were based on a confession by one of them. Al-Tajer expressed concern about the fairness of the trial, including authorities’ refusal to let him meet with his clients while they were in pre-trial detention. He said that some of the defendants had alleged that they were tortured, but that the judge had refused to let them show the court physical evidence or to initiate an independent investigation into the torture allegations.

A May Human Rights Watch report described in detail how Bahrain’s courts play a key role in maintaining the country’s highly repressive political order. For example, in September 2012 a Bahraini court classified classic tools of peaceful protest as acts of terrorism, reasoning that terrorism can be the result of “moral pressure,” while affirming the long-term sentences of government critics who had advocated for the establishment of a republic in Bahrain

Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a nationality and that no-one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality. Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain has ratified, states that, “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” In 1999, the Human Rights Committee, the authoritative UN body for interpreting the ICCPR, stated that “The scope of ‘his own country’ is broader than the concept ‘country of his nationality,’ ” and that it would apply to people who have been stripped of their nationality in violation of international law.

“The Bahraini government seems hell bent on finding ever new and more pernicious ways to penalize its critics and suppress calls for change,” Whitson said. “No one should have their citizenship snatched away for peaceful criticism of their government.”