Stripping citizenship and the politics of repression

Stripping citizenship and the politics of repression
Comment: The use of citizenship-stripping as a punitive measure against 'terrorists' may give convenient cover to regimes less concerned about the niceties of the law, writes Bill Law.
5 min read
10 Mar, 2016
The revocation of citizenship by countries such as the UK doesn't solve the problem [Getty]

British Home Secretary Theresa May is a keen advocate of stripping citizenship from alleged and convicted terrorists and terrorist sympathisers. On her watch, 28 Britons have lost their nationality on the basis that to do so was "conducive to the public good".

Now, according to a report in the Independent newspaper, she is planning to strip the citizenship of at least three of those convicted in the notorious Rotherham sex abuse case. Once they have completed their sentences the men will be deported to their native Pakistan.

And I shed no tears for their fate. But I worry that the use of citizenship-stripping as a punitive measure against "terrorists" and thugs gives convenient cover to regimes and ruling elites less concerned about the niceties of the law.

Using the UK as an example, officials in less savoury regimes are revoking the citizenship of human rights activists and opposition politicians who have had the temerity to challenge them.

Take Bahrain, Britain's island ally in the Gulf, for example. In November 2012, a little more than a year after a largely peaceful pro-democracy movement had been brutally suppressed, the Bahraini government issued a list of 31 names of individuals who had lost their citizenship for "undermining state security".

Included in the list were two former members of parliament, brothers Jawad and Jalal Fairooz. Jawad - who now has right of asylum in the UK - recalls the shock he felt: "There was no evidence against me, nothing was ever presented in a court of law that proved I was a threat to state security, so on what basis did they strip me of my citizenship?"

I worry that the use of citizenship stripping as a punitive measure against terrorists and thugs gives convenient cover to regimes and ruling elites less concerned about the niceties of the law.

In January 2015, another 72 names of individuals deprived of citizenship were released. This time, however, human rights defenders, political activists and a third former opposition MP were jumbled together with violent protesters and 22 alleged Islamic State group or al-Qaeda supporters.

In a lengthy charge sheet released by the Ministry of the Interior, all 72 stood accused of "belonging to terrorist groups fighting abroad". Other alleged offences included "defaming brotherly countries" and "spying for foreign countries and recruiting a number of persons through social media".

No evidence was presented to justify the charges, nor was any effort made to distinguish alleged terrorists from peaceful oppositionists.

One of those on the list of 72 is a university lecturer named Dr Masaud Jahromi. This week, Dr Jahromi was bundled onto a plane and deported to Beirut. He is not a terrorist - not even an activist - yet he finds himself stateless.

It is a situation Amnesty's James Lynch calls "shocking - citizens of Bahrain are being rendered stateless and being deprived of the right to reside in their own country".

Those who have had their nationality revoked must hand in their passports and ID documentation and apply for a residency permit as a foreigner - or leave the country. Individuals who have not been granted a residency permit and have remained in Bahrain have been charged with "illegally residing" in the country and given deportation orders, Amnesty says.

It would be laughable were it not so evocative of the Stalinist world of George Orwell's 1984.

Meanwhile, sweeping amendments to Bahraini law have widened the reasons for which an individual could have their nationality revoked. This now includes "anyone whose acts contravene his duty of loyalty to the kingdom" - a broad brush indeed.

And throughout the GCC states, loose definitions of what constitutes a crime that would warrant the loss of citizenship and expulsion as a stateless individual are now the norm.

Late last year the Abu Dhabi attorney-general, Ali Mohammed al-Baloushi, urged residents to avoid "publishing, preparing, producing, using, broadcasting or transmitting any written or spoken statements, gestures, symbols, drawings, photographs, recordings or writings, in audio, visual or print format, of anything that harms society or public order of the country".

It would be laughable were it not so evocative of the Stalinist world of George Orwell's 1984.

And, in this very real, non-fictional world, the families of those already imprisoned may also arbitrarily have their citizenship stripped away. On 8 March in Sharjah, the three adult children of a man imprisoned for ten years in the infamous UAE94 trial - a trial widely condemned by leading human rights organisations as grossly unfair - were informed that their nationality was revoked. No reason was provided. Their father had lost his citizenship in 2012.

The right to a nationality, which must not be deprived arbitrarily, is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - to which Bahrain is a signatory. The UAE, however, is not.

International human rights law also prohibits arbitrary deportation and the exiling of persons from their own country. The Bahraini and the Emirati regimes appear blissfully untroubled by such concerns. And they seem to have a friend in Theresa May.

The revocation of citizenship by countries such as the UK, even if those affected are convicted thugs or legitimate terror threats, simply kicks the problem along. It solves nothing and it gives great sustenance to repressive regimes to silence their critics and suppress any dissent.

On the matter of citizenship revocation, it is time for the home secretary to think again.

Bill Law is a former BBC Gulf analyst. Follow him on Twitter: @Billlaw49

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.