Bahrain revokes citizenship of prominent Shia cleric
Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Ahmed Qassim is Bahrain’s leading Shia cleric and spiritual head of country’s largest opposition movement
Bahraini authorities on Monday revoked the citizenship of Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Ahmed Qassim, the country’s leading Shia cleric and the spiritual leader of Al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest opposition movement.
According to Bahrain’s Interior Ministry, the step was taken because Qassim "damaged the country’s supreme interests and failed to comply with his obligation to show loyalty to Bahrain."
In a statement posted on its official website, the ministry cited the country’s citizenship law, which it said, "calls for the revocation of Bahraini citizenship… if anyone harms the interests of the kingdom or shows disloyalty to Bahrain".
"Therefore," the ministry added, "based on recommendations by Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, the Cabinet has issued a decree approving the revocation of citizenship from Isa Ahmed Qassim."
The ministry went on to accuse the cleric of establishing "religious and political organizations with foreign links" -- a veiled reference to Shia Iran -- and "promoting an environment of extremism and sectarianism."
The ministry further accused Qassim of "manipulating religious issues and political affairs in order to serve foreign interests," of "inciting sectarianism and violence." and of "communicating with foreign organizations considered hostile to the Kingdom of Bahrain."
Notably, the move comes less than one week after a Bahraini court ruled to indefinitely suspend all activities of Bahrain’s Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society.
In Washington, the State Department voiced alarm over the decision, saying it is "deeply troubled" by Bahrain's "practice of withdrawing the nationality of its citizens arbitrarily, the overall precedent that this case could establish, and the risk that individuals may be rendered stateless.
"We worry that this case, as well as other recent actions by the Government, will further divert Bahrainis from the path of reform and reconciliation," spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. "That path–which Bahrain’s leadership had wisely pursued–remains the best means for enhancing the security of Bahrain and meeting the aspirations of all Bahrain’s citizens."
The Shia-led Al-Wefaq, of which Qassim is considered the spiritual leader, represents Bahrain's largest opposition movement.
The court accused Al-Wefaq of disrespecting citizens’ rights; undermining tolerance and coexistence; creating an environment conducive to terror and extremism; and supporting the notion of foreign intervention -- another reference to Iran -- in Bahrain’s domestic affairs.
On June 4, Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa issued a decree ostensibly aimed at banning the "mixing of politics with religion", effectively prohibiting members of political groups from engaging in religious preaching.
Only days earlier, Al-Wefaq Secretary-General Ali Salman was slapped with nine years behind bars on charges of "incitement" and "insulting the Interior Ministry".
Al-Wefaq rejected the charges against Salman, asserting that there was "no legal or moral justification" for his arrest and subsequent incarceration.
Bahrain has been rocked by revolt since 2011, when pro-democracy protests erupted in the tiny Gulf state as part of the "Arab Spring" uprisings.
The Sunni-led government blames Al-Wefaq for the upheaval, accusing the Shia party of pursuing an "Iranian agenda".
Al-Wefaq, for its part, denies the allegations, saying it wants to see a "constitutional government" set up in the kingdom.