A Bahraini court has sentenced 69 people to life in prison and revoked the citizenship of 138 defendants on terrorism-related charges in one of the largest mass trials ever held in the country.
The ruling also marked the single largest revocation of citizenship in Bahrain – a small island-nation off the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula that hosts the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The Europe-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said the verdict brought to 990 the number of people ordered stripped of their nationality since 2012.
Critics say authorities in Bahrain have increasingly used a law allowing the government to withdraw Bahraini citizenship from people charged with terrorism-related activities to also target political activists and human rights advocates.
The public prosecutor’s office said 70 defendants in yesterday’s case were sentenced to between three years and ten years’ imprisonment.
Close to 100 suspects were fined roughly £202,937 each.
The defendants, of which 109 are in custody and 60 were tried in absentia, are allowed to appeal the sentences.
It is unclear where any of those stripped of citizenship could be sent.
Charges against the group include forming a terrorist cell inside Bahrain with help from Iran, launching terrorist attacks, and training and using weapons and explosives.
The group was labelled as “Hezbollah Bahrain”.
Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei, director of advocacy at BIRD, said based on the names of the defendants, all appear to be Shiite Bahrainis.
In the years since Bahrain’s 2011 Arab Spring protests, which saw tens of thousands from the country’s majority Shiites demand greater rights from the Sunni-led monarchy, authorities have dismantled opposition political groups, imprisoned activists, forced others into exile and clamped down on independent media outlets. Amid the crackdown, local Shiite militant groups have carried out numerous attacks on security forces.
Amnesty International said yesterday’s verdict “makes a mockery of justice” and “demonstrates how Bahrain’s authorities are increasingly relying on revocation of nationality as a tool for repression”.
In another recent mass trial in February, 167 people were convicted, primarily for participation in a non-violent sit-in, Amnesty said.
In May of last year, 115 people were stripped of their citizenship following a single trial with the sentences upheld on appeal.
Mr Al-Wadaei said the interior ministry revoked his citizenship in 2015 on charges related to his political activism and human rights work.
His daughter, born in 2017, to a Bahraini mother, was rendered stateless and is without a passport because Bahraini law only passes citizenship through the father.
Mr Al-Wadaei, who is based in London and seeking permanent residence in the UK, said other Bahrainis who have been stripped of their nationality since 2012 have mostly been Shiite Bahrainis.
Many have been deported to Iraq and Lebanon. A few others have been able to seek asylum in the UK and Canada.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a nationality and that no-one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality or of the right to enter his own country.
The Bahraini government last year deported to Iraq eight stateless Bahrainis whose citizenship it had previously stripped for “damaging state security”.
In a separate UK case, teenager Shamima Begum, who left east London in 2015, was stripped of her citizenship in February after she was found in a Syrian refugee camp.