Statelessness has become a common penalty in Bahrain, in some cases with the aim of putting pressure on media outlets that might otherwise be tempted not to toe the government line.
Of the seven journalists and citizen-journalists who have been the victims of this punishment, three are currently serving jail terms, and the other four are living in exile.
Three stateless journalists in prison
The photographer Ahmed Al Mousawi was arrested in 2014, mainly for taking photos of anti-government protests, and was sentenced on 23 November 2015 to ten years in prison and the loss of his citizenship.
The journalist Mahmoud Al Jaziri and the blogger Ali Al Maaraj were stripped of their nationality on 30 October 2017 in a political trial in which they and five others were convicted of having links with an alleged terrorist cell. Some of the defendants said they were tortured during interrogation.
Employed by Al Wasat, a newspaper closed by the authorities in 2017, Al Jaziri was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Al Maaraj, who had already spent 27 months in prison for “insulting the king” and “abusing information technology,” was given a life sentence.
“Punishing those who do their job as journalists with either imprisonment or deprivation of nationality is grotesque,” RSF said. “Bahrain has not signed the 1961UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness but it has signed the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which says: ‘Everyone has the right to nationality; no one shall be arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived of their nationality.’ Covering opposition protests or reporting what government opponents say constitutes neither terrorism nor a threat to state security.”
Four stateless journalists in exile
Fearing imprisonment, the other four journalists were already in self-imposed exile when they were deprived of their citizenship.
Ali Abdel Imam, the founder of the BahrainOnline news website, Ali Aldairy, the founder and editor of the Bahrain Mirror newspaper, Al Nabaa TV TV presenter Abbas Busafwan and Hussein Yousef, a blogger, were all stripped of their nationality by the interior ministryon 31 January 2015.
No court ruling was required because, under a 2014 amendment to Bahrain’s citizenship law, the interior ministry alone can withdraw Bahraini nationality from anyone who is deemed to have helped an enemy state or whose loyalty to Bahrain is questionable.
The children of those penalized in this way are also stripped of their nationality. Ali Abdel Imam has a son who was born stateless in the United Kingdom.
A total of 579Bahrainis have been stripped of their nationality since 2012. Fifteen journalists and citizen-journalists are currently imprisoned in Bahrain in connection with their work. They include Nabeel Rajab, who is facing the possibility of an additional 15-year jail term on 21 February.
Bahrain is ranked 164th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.