Bahrain is preparing for the first anniversary of the Bahrain Independent Commission for Inquiry (BICI) by placing even greater restrictions on free expression.
As violence escalates in the Gulf kingdom, the country’s government has taken new measures in the name of national security. According to an announcement made last night on the state-run Bahrain TV, the country’s government has decided to strip 31 activists of their citizenship for “being a threat to national security”. The list is mostly made up of political activists, including UK-based Saeed Shehabi and Ali Mushaima, who have been outspoken in criticising the country’s regime, and Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society member Jawad Fairouz, who was a member of parliament before resigning in protest of the country’s brutal response demonstrations that began on 14 February last year.
This is not a new tactic for Bahrain: The country also revoked the citizenship of outspoken activists in the 1980s and 1990s, forcing them into exile. The latest move, however, violates Article 17 of Bahrain’s 2002 constitution:
a. Bahraini nationality shall be determined by law. A person inherently enjoying his Bahraini nationality cannot be stripped of his nationality except in case of treason, and such other cases as prescribed by law.
b. It is prohibited to banish a citizen from Bahrain or prevent him from returning to it.
The decision comes after the tragic death of two migrant workers and the injury of another on 5 November following a bomb blast in Bahrain’s capital, Manama. While none of the 31 activists have been linked to the explosion, Bahrain continues to make efforts to portray the country’s uprising as violent.
Earlier this year, the attention around the hunger strike of imprisoned human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and a brutal crackdown on protesters squashed Bahrain’s chances of whitewashing its public image with the Formula One race in April. After the BICI report was presented in November 2011, Bahrain’s government was determined to make the uprising history, but its unfulfilled pledges to reform came back to haunt it in the lead up to the race.
As Alkhawaja’s health deteriorated, the international community placed immense pressure on the Bahraini government to release him to Denmark, where he is also a citizen. Denmark granted Alkhawaja asylum in 1991, and the country’s government has been active in lobbying for his release. The activist moved back to Bahrain in 2001, and was jailed for his role in the country’s uprising in 2011. An editorial published in the Gulf Daily News in the race lead-up explored the “problem” of dual-citizens, claiming it was a “get out of jail free card” for criminals.
Bahrain’s failure to follow through on promised BICI-related reforms, as well as a disregard for its own constitution, signals a chilling next stage for the country. The country’s most recent violence is testament to Bahrain’s failure to diffuse unrest with reforms, rather than force.
Sara Yasin is an editorial assistant at Index on Censorship. She tweets at @missyasin