Panel Event – Citizenship in Bahrain, Rights or Privilege? The policy of citizenship revocation in the country

On November 12, 2020, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) hosted an online streamed event on the revocation of citizenship in Bahrain. This event, entitled “Citizenship in Bahrain, Rights or Privilege? The policy of citizenship revocation in the country” focused on how the revocation of citizenship is used as a weapon by the Government of Bahrain to silence dissent and opposition. The event had four panelists in total: Abdulghani Khanjar,  Zahra Albarazi, Mouna Ben Garga, and Courtney Radsch; and Husain Abdulla, the executive director of ADHRB, moderated the event.

Husain Abdulla began the discussion by telling his personal story about when he learned that he had lost his citizenship due to his human rights activity, and dissent and opposition to the Al-Khalifa regime in Bahrain. Luckily he was already a naturalized US citizen, so he did not become stateless, but not everyone who has had their citizenship revoked is so lucky.

Abdulghani Khanjar, a leading Bahraini political activist who also had his Bahraini citizenship revoked due to human rights activity, spoke about his personal experience of persecution and the torture he endured from the 1990s onwards. Khanjar shared his experience of working at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights with Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab, as well as participation at Geneva and the House of Lords. In addition to his most recent arrest in 2010, Khanjar was tortured at different times for decades. In 2010, along with many other prominent activists, he was arrested and tortured for more than six months. Following his release in February 2011, he went into hiding for two years before he was able to escape to Iran. He has been sentenced in absentia for 30 years. While in hiding, Khanjar did interviews with Bloomberg, Der Spiegel, and Channel 4 in the UK, to speak out against the regime. He spoke about how the regime has used the revocation of citizenship as a tool to terrorize activists and their families and to deny their political and civil rights. He also spoke about how it is used as a sectarian weapon to discriminate against the Shia in Bahrain, and anyone who is different or dissatisfied with their treatment under the Khalifa monarchy.


Zahra Albarazi, leading expert and independent consultant on the issue of Statelessness, spoke about how the Government of Bahrain is using citizenship as a political tool. Albarazi delivered a comprehensive explanation of how many states around the world, not just Bahrain, view citizenship as a political tool rather than an inalienable right, and how it is used to either exclude or include someone in a nation-state. Specifically, she discussed the worrying fact that the number of Bahraini citizens who are being stripped of their citizenship is continuing to increase. From the beginning, the government has falsely claimed that this was in line with its national and international obligations, as well as the international treaties it is party to.  The reality of many of those who have had their citizenship revoked is that they are now stateless. As a consequence, they no longer have the same rights as before and are now separate from the community. The purpose of this is to silence and punish, the opposition. Furthermore, the threat of de-nationalization acts as a deterrent to people who might have spoken out otherwise. She finished by saying that, in addition to international pressure, there must be in-country pressure and condemnation.

Mouna Ben Garga, from CIVICUS, gave a presentation on how the topic of citizenship revocation relates to the democratic process, and democracy as a whole. According to Article 15 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, nationality is a right, not a privilege. She explained that citizenship revocation is one of many tactics used by states to repress civil society. The top ten violations of civic freedom–censorship, protester(s) detained, harassment, restrictive laws, intimidation, attack on journalists, protest disruption, journalists detained, excessive force, criminal defamation–can all be found in Bahrain. Like the majority of the MENA region, it is a closed civic space.  She highlighted that the international community, specifically the diasporas from oppressive countries, should play a larger role in lobbying and advocacy to force these countries to confront their human rights abuses.

Dr. Courtney Radsch, Advocacy Director at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), also spoke about the lack of free speech in Bahrain, where journalists have been oppressed, tortured, and had their citizenship revoked for doing their job. Bahrain is at the forefront of citizenship revocation as punishment for journalists. Many Bahraini journalists not only live in exile, but are unable to return to Bahrain because their citizenship has been revoked. She also discussed the closure of independent or semi-independent outlets in Bahrain, and the impact that has on the suppression of civic society. Furthermore, she touched on how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is affecting those imprisoned in Bahrain. Prison conditions are such that prisoners are unable to practice social distancing or safe hygiene practices, and have been repeatedly denied access to adequate medical care.

After the four panelists were finished, Husain opened up the discussion to questions from the audience about the effects of citizenship revocation and how it can be addressed.