DUBAI (AFP) – Sunni-ruled Bahrain said Saturday it had revoked the citizenship of 72 people convicted of “harming the interests of the kingdom”, which has experienced unrest by its Shiite majority since 2011.
The official BNA news agency said their nationality had been rescinded in a decree as part of measures to “preserve security and stability and fight the danger of terrorist threats”.
BNA published a list of names of the 72 people affected by the measure adopted by the interior ministry and approved by the cabinet.
“Proper legal procedures will be taken by the interior ministry to implement this decision,” it added.
Information Minister Isa Abdulrahman al-Hammadi said that “most” of those deprived of their citizenship “are abroad and can challenge the decision legally”.
“They do not represent a single terrorist formation,” he added, suggesting that those named do not belong to one single Muslim denomination.
Among the reasons for the decision, Hammadi cited “membership of terrorist cells and groups”, “financing terrorist acts”, “incitement to regime change through force” and “spreading deviant ideologies”, a reference to extremist groups.
This is the largest number of Bahrainis to be stripped of their nationality since a law passed in 2013 on the punishment of those convicted of “terrorist” acts.
Al-Wefaq, the kingdom’s main Shiite opposition group, denounced the withdrawal of nationality, calling it “a weapon” used by the regime to “punish opponents”.
“Most of those deprived of their citizenship are opponents in exile,” it added in a statement, estimating at around 50 the number of opposition activists it said supported “a democratic transition in Bahrain”.
The list also includes the names of “foreign fighters alleged to have links with Daesh”, the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group, Al-Wefaq noted.
Al-Wefaq’s leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, was arrested in late December and is currently on trial charged with attempting to overthrow the regime.
His trial began on Wednesday amid tight security.
Last November, three Shiites were sentenced to 10 years in prison and stripped of their citizenship for planning to attack the police.
Their case followed that of another 18 deprived of their citizenship after the authorities in 2012 revoked the nationality of 31 Shiites for “endangering state security”.
Bahrain, ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty, is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and sits across the Gulf from mainly Shiite Iran.
The tiny but strategic Gulf nation has been rocked by unrest since a 2011 Shiite-led uprising demanding a constitutional monarchy and more representative government.
At least 89 people have been killed in clashes with security forces since 2011, while hundreds have been arrested and put on trial, rights groups say.
On Saturday, the interior ministry said on its Twitter feed that two policemen had been injured in a “terrorist” bomb blast at a gas station in the Shiite village of Al-Muqsha, near the capital.