Bahrain revokes citizenships, sentences 69 to life in prison

Bahrain mass trial sentences 69 people to life in prison, revokes citizenship of 138 on terrorism-related charges

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- A Bahraini court sentenced 69 people to life in prison and revoked the citizenship of 138 defendants on terrorism-related charges, the public prosecutor said Tuesday, in one of the largest mass trials ever held in the country.

It also marked the single largest revocation of citizenship in Bahrain, a small island-nation off the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula that hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

The Europe-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said the verdict brings to 990 the number of people ordered stripped of their nationality since 2012.

Critics say authorities in Bahrain have increasingly used a law allowing the government to withdraw Bahraini citizenship from people charged with terrorism-related activities to also target political activists and human rights advocates.

The public prosecutor's office said 70 defendants in Tuesday's case were sentenced to between three years and 10 years imprisonment. Close to 100 suspects were fined roughly $265,000 each.

The defendants, of which 109 are in custody and 60 were tried in absentia, can appeal.

Charges against the group include forming a terrorist cell inside Bahrain with help from Iran, launching terrorist attacks, and training and using weapons and explosives. The group was labeled as "Hezbollah Bahrain."

Based on the names of the defendants, all appear to be Shiite Bahrainis, said Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei, director of advocacy at BIRD.

In the years since Bahrain's 2011 Arab Spring protests, which saw tens of thousands from the country's majority Shiites demand greater rights from the Sunni-led monarchy, authorities have dismantled opposition political groups, imprisoned activists, forced others into exile and clamped down on independent media outlets.

Amid the crackdown, local Shiite militant groups have carried out numerous attacks on security forces.

Amnesty International said Tuesday's verdict "makes a mockery of justice" and "demonstrates how Bahrain's authorities are increasingly relying on revocation of nationality as a tool for repression."

In another recent mass trial in February, 167 people were convicted, primarily for participation in a non-violent sit-in, said Amnesty.

In May of last year, 115 people were stripped of their citizenship following a single trial with the sentences upheld on appeal.

Al-Wadaei of BIRD said the Interior Ministry revoked his citizenship in 2015 on charges related to his political activism and human rights work. His daughter, born in 2017, to a Bahraini mother was rendered stateless and is without a passport because Bahraini law only passes citizenship through the father.

Al-Wadaei, who is based in London and seeking permanent residence in the U.K., said other Bahrainis who've been stripped of their nationality since 2012 have mostly been Shiite Bahrainis. Many have been deported to Iraq and Lebanon, and a few others have been able to seek asylum in the U.K. and Canada.