US slams ally Bahrain over move against Shia cleric
The US State Department issued a strongly worded statement criticising the move, stating it is "deeply troubled" by the kingdom's judgement and suggested it lead with "reform and reconciliation" as opposed to legal action.
"We are alarmed by the government of Bahrain's decision to revoke the citizenship of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim," US spokesman John Kirby said.
"We remain deeply troubled by the government of Bahrain's practice of withdrawing the nationality of its citizens arbitrarily," he said, citing concern that dissidents could be rendered stateless.
"Our concern is further magnified by reports that Sheikh Qassim was unable to respond to the accusations against him... or challenge the decision through a transparent legal process."
Bahraini authorities accused Sheikh Isa Qassim of sowing sectarian divisions and had abused his position to "serve foreign interests and promote... sectarianism and violence", the interior ministry said, quoted by the BNA state news agency.
Qassim had been a strong proponent of "absolute allegiance to the clergy", while maintaining continuous contact with "organisations and parties that are enemies of the kingdom", it charged.
Home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, Bahrain has been shaken by unrest since security forces crushed 2011 protests demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister.
Protesters still frequently clash with police in Shia villages outside the capital, with rights groups repeatedly raising concern over the response of the authorities.
Bahraini authorities have revoked by court order the citizenships of scores of Shias convicted of violence.
But unlike earlier cases, the decision against Qassim was issued by the Gulf state's council of ministers and not by a court.
The move comes as the State Department faces pressure over publishing a much anticipated report investigating Bahrain's progress towards reconciliation.
The report is "nearing the end stages" and is due to be published soon, Kirby confirmed.