Rights group urges Bahrain to reverse cleric deportation decision

Human Rights Watch accuses Bahrain rulers of 'slamming shut the door on political reform'
Rights group urges Bahrain to reverse cleric deportation decision
By Staff writer
Thu 23 Jun 2016 01:42 PM

An international rights group has called on Bahraini authorities to reverse their decision to arbitrarily strip the citizenship of a senior cleric.

Human Rights Watch also said in a statement that Bahrain should also immediately release a prominent rights activist jailed on June 13, on charges that "clearly violate freedom of expression".

Earlier this week, the Gulf kingdom's Interior Ministry said it was revoking the citizenship of Ayatollah Isa Qassim, considered the spiritual leader of the main opposition group, Al Wefaq.

It accused him of “creating an extremist sectarian environment” and saying he had “encouraged sectarianism and violence.”

“Bahrain’s government and ruling family are slamming shut the door on political reform, while simultaneously stoking dissent,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director.

“Bahrain’s allies in Washington and London should be unequivocal and public in their condemnation and make it clear that these provocations will have an impact on military assistance and strategic relations.”

The move against Ayatollah Isa Qassim is the latest taken by Bahrain - where a Shi'ite majority is ruled by a Sunni monarchy - against Shi'ite figures, in what appears to be an escalating campaign against dissent in the Western-allied Gulf kingdom.

Since the beginning of 2015, authorities have stripped more than 200 Bahrainis of their citizenship, leaving many of them stateless. They include more than 30 human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, doctors, and religious scholars, as well as people convicted of terrorism and others who have fought for the ISIL in Syria and Iraq.

“It will not be difficult for historians to pinpoint the escalation of abuses that marked the end of Bahrain’s claim that it has any regard for fundamental rights,” Stork said.

Human Rights Watch also called for the release off Nabeel Rajab, a rights activist whose detention was extended on June 21 by a public prosecutor.

He faces charges of “spreading false news…in a bid to discredit Bahrain” under article 134 of the penal code but Human Rights Watch said the authorities have not made clear what comments form the basis for the charges.

Rajab is a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East advisory committee. His family told Human Rights Watch that his jailors are keeping him in solitary confinement in Riffa police station in an unsanitary prison cell that is affecting his health and well-being.

“The authorities clearly intend to punish Nabeel Rajab by isolating him as if he were a dangerous criminal, and in degrading conditions,” Stork said.

Rajab had earlier been imprisoned from April 2, 2014, to July 13, 2014, on charges of “offending national institutions,” which related to his criticism of the government on social media. A public prosecutor imposed a travel ban on Rajab on the day King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa pardoned him.

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