(Beirut) – Bahraini authorities have deported five stateless Bahrainis, whom they had previously stripped of their citizenship, since February 21, 2016. Another nine people stripped of their citizenship will be at risk of deportation if a court of appeal does not overturn the decision to strip them of their citizenship, which is based on a vague accusation that they had “damaged state security.”
On December 7, 2015, the court of appeal, upholding a decision to strip eight people of their citizenship, ruled that the authorities can exercise their discretion and need not provide “specific means of proof” when revoking the citizenship of nationals who “cause harm to the state” or fail in their “duty of loyalty” to it.
“These unlawful deportations are ripping families apart and causing untold suffering,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “Bahrain should stop the deportations immediately and restore citizenship to those who have been left stateless, especially when this was done without justification or because they criticised their government.”
The Bahraini Center for Human Rights told Human Rights Watch that, on the afternoon of March 15, 2016, 54-year-old Ali Esfandeyar became the fourth Bahraini whom authorities have deported since February 21, when they deported Shi’a cleric Mohamed Khojasta. On December 7, 2015, a court of appeal upheld the decision to strip Esfandeyar and seven others of their citizenship – a decision that has left at least five of them stateless.
Nine others are at risk of deportation after March 22, 2016, if a court of appeal upholds the decision to strip them of their citizenship. The nine were among a group of 31 Bahrainis whose citizenship the authorities revoked on November 6, 2012, claiming that they had caused “damage to security of the state.”
One of the nine, Taimoor Karimi, a lawyer, received a court summons on August 10, 2014, from the public prosecutor, citing “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. Karimi has four children, the youngest of whom is 14. He told Human Rights Watch that he is concerned that he may have to go to another country, away from his family and with no other nationality. “I am not a young man,” he said. “This does not make sense.”
The others are Sayed Mohamed Ali al-Musawi, Sayed Abd al-Amir al-Musawi, Adnan Kamal, Habib Darwish, Ebrahim Darwish, Ismail Darwish, Maryam Sayed Ebrahim, and Sayed Abd al-Nabi al-Musawi.
The court’s decision cites a 2014 amendment to article 10 of the Bahraini citizenship law of 1963, which allows for the revocation of citizenship from persons who “caused harm to the interests of the Kingdom or behaved in a way inimical with the duty of loyalty to it.” The judgment, which Human Rights Watch has reviewed, states that:
It is established that the state has the right to assess what is and is not harmful to its domestic and foreign affairs. … It has the discretionary authority to take all measures to ensure its security and safety, and these measures may broaden or narrow in accordance with the circumstances surrounding the state. … It is established that the decision to revoke citizenship may be proved by any incident or evidence without a requirement for a specific means of proof. The administrative body possesses broad discretionary authority in this regard that is not subject to judicial review provided its decision is free of the abuse of authority.
The court’s reasoning effectively grants the authorities full discretion to revoke the citizenship of any Bahraini in the knowledge that the courts will not require them to provide any proof to justify their decision. The decision can be based on vaguely worded offenses such as “damaging state security” or failing in a “duty of loyalty” to the state.
Another of those affected by the decision was Masaud Jahromi, 46, who was deported on March 7, 2016. He was among a group of 72 Bahrainis whose citizenship the authorities revoked on January 31, 2015. The Interior Ministry statement announcing the decision stated that those involved had either been involved in “illegal acts” that included a range of terrorist offenses, “spying for foreign countries,” “defaming the image of the regime,” and “inciting and advocating regime change through illegal means.” At the time, Jahromi, who has a 3-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son, was chairman of the Computer Science Department at Ahlia University in Manama.
Jahromi told Human Rights Watch that he received a phone call on March 7, 2016, telling him to report to the General Directorate of Nationality, Passport and Residence. He had appealed to the authorities in writing and in person to delay any deportation until June, saying that his wife was in ill-health and that the deportation would have a negative impact on his 12-yearold son’s education.
The authorities did not respond to his appeal. Instead, they drove him to the airport, gave him a Bahraini passport that identifies him as a Bahraini resident, not a citizen, and placed him on a plane with a passport issued the same day. Jahromi asked Human Rights Watch not to divulge his current whereabouts. But he said that his one-year passport expires on March 7, 2017, and he does not know if he will be able to renew his entrance visa when it expires. He said he has no idea why the authorities decided to revoke his citizenship: “I attended [anti-government] rallies in 2011, but everyone attended rallies in 2011,” he said, referring to anti-government protests that the authorities repressed with disproportionate and sometimes lethal force.
In 2015, authorities stripped 208 Bahrainis of their citizenship. They can be classified into three broad categories: human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, doctors, and religious scholars; Bahrainis known to be fighting alongside the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, in Iraq and Syria; and individuals convicted of domestic terrorism offenses. With regard to the last category, Human Rights Watch has described Bahrain’s courts as playing “a key role” in maintaining the country’s highly repressive political order” and the Supreme Appellate Court held in September 2012 that terrorism need not involve the use or threat of violence but can be the result of “moral pressure.” Article 29 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Bahrain has ratified, states that “Every person has the right to a nationality, and no citizen shall be deprived of his nationality without a legally valid reason.”
Article 21 of the Arab Charter states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence.” There is no Arab Court of Human Rights to interpret the charter and offer guidance on its implementation, but other international human rights bodies have applied a three-part test to determine whether the state’s actions violate the right to family life. They have said that decisions must be made in accordance with law, must pursue a legitimate aim, and must be proportionate (and necessary in a democratic society), taking into account the impact of the deportation on the person’s family.
Although the Bahraini authorities have followed a legal procedure, the court of appeal’s reasoning appears to grant the authorities absolute discretion to make decisions without considering the impact on the family life of those affected, no matter how arbitrary or unreasonable.
“Bahrain’s allies can and should press Manama to end this policy of banishing peaceful dissidents,” Stork said.