Having a nationality is something that most people take for granted, and it is difficult to imagine life without one. Being a citizen guarantees you maximum protection under the law, economic rights and entitles you to basic social and welfare benefits. Effectively, citizenship ensures that as an individual you can live securely within the constructs of society, with a sense of identity and belonging.
Unfortunately, many countries use the revocation of nationality as a form of reprisal against citizens who act in defiance of state imposed laws. Nationality is often arbitrarily and unfairly stripped away from citizens who exercise their freedom of speech, oppose government policies or who openly advocate against a ruling monarchy or regime.
This has been the case for over 180 Bahraini citizens, 128 of whom have had their citizenships stripped away by the Government of Bahrain in 2015 alone; many of whom are children. Most of these people lost their nationality as punishment for their involvement in the mass popular uprising, ongoing since 2011, whether as activists, protesters, doctors, lawyers or journalists.
The process of revocation itself is often arbitrary, lacking any due process or fair trial. In January, 72 individuals were stripped of their nationality without a trial at all. Many victims are convicted using Bahrain’s vague anti-terrorism legislation put in place in 2006. Under the laws, the Minister of Interior of was granted wide scale powers to revoke citizenships under a revision made to the 1963 Bahraini Citizenship Act, without adequate safeguards. This law has often been abused by the Ministry since 2011 to imprison, convict, and make stateless human rights defenders in the country on trumped up and unsubstantiated terror charges.
So what does it mean to be a stateless person? The repercussions can range from minor day-to-day frustrations to the disastrous deprivation of basic human rights. Within a social context, you are no longer entitled access to education, healthcare and housing. Your civil rights and liberties will also be affected, depriving you of your right to get married in law, participate in the democratic process or even travel freely. Your access to financial services will be hindered, leaving you unemployable, unable to open a bank account, take out a loan for your mortgage or own property. Without access to these basic rights it becomes impossible to enjoy life as we know it, leaving stateless people in limbo and on the fringes of society. This has eventually forces many to leave the country to seek asylum elsewhere. In some cases, these individuals have been forced to seek asylum after being kicked out of the country by its government.
More often than not, the children of people without a nationality will be born stateless and as a result prevented from having their births registered, seek adequate healthcare or even obtain an education. This is especially the case in Bahrain, where women are prevented from passing down their nationality to their children.
In the world we live in today, every benefit and human right we enjoy either directly or inadvertently results from the ownership of nationality. It ties us to the state, which is responsible for protecting us and without this connection, we are no longer entitled to the most basic of human rights.
Sahar Esfandiari, Legal Researcher