interview by: Haifa Zaaiter
As Bahrain’s authorities have been overwhelmed by despair about their ability to silence the opposition, they have started to take measures, hoping to contain “the storm” that threatens to engulf them. Then, they reached at decision to strip the nationality of 31 members of Bahrain’s opposition.
Abdulhadi Khalaf, an experienced politician of Bahrain, is affected by this decision and is among those who believe that glory can only be brought about by a storm … eradicating every tyrant, absolutist and villain, as Abdul Rahman al-Muawedah, the poet of the National Union Committee, said years before the Bahraini people first headed to the Pearl roundabout.
The confrontation between Abdulhadi Khalaf, who was born in 1945, and the Bahraini authorities started more than 40 years ago. He began to “annoy them” since he came into parliament in 1973 as member of the People’s Bloc, which is a coalition of leftist and nationalist forces. Khalaf became a prominent member of the first elected national assembly.
His companions at that time said that he stood firm in the face of approving unjust laws drawn by the government, most notably the state’s security law. This has pushed the government to force him out of the assembly, claiming that he was not old enough to be a MP.
After that, the assembly was dissolved in 1975 and Khalaf’s passport was withdrawn in 1978. Since then, the Bahraini opposition member has experienced many events on the sideline of his confrontation with the authorities. These events are punctuated by incarceration, hunger strikes, deportation, prosecution and the seizure of his passport.
Commenting on the recent decision taken by the authorities, Khalaf explained to As-Safir the circumstances and consequences of the decision to strip him of his nationality, as well as his future confrontation [with authorities].
Other citizens were also stripped of nationality, such as former MPs Jalal and Jawad Fairuz, lawyer Taymur Krimi, Saeed Shahabi, head of the Bahrain Freedom Movement, Ali Mushaima of the Haq Movement, and others. It is to be noted that Khalaf is a resident of Sweden and is teaching political science and sociology in Lund University.
As-Safir: How did you receive the decision to revoke nationality?
Khalaf: The decision was not surprising for many people, including me. The authorities have refused to renew my passport since the beginning of last summer, knowing that when it was last renewed it was only valid for one year.
In fact, the authorities are acting as if citizenship is not a right for citizens, but rather a grant from the ruler to his people, therefore he is entitled to revoke it whenever he desires. In the 1970s — more precisely in 1975 — after the state security campaign was launched, the passport’s validity for students travelling outside of Bahrain was one year to make sure the authorities are controlling the students’ activities when they travel. A complaint can be filed before the courts against people who violate this law, but it can last for months and years, until the ruler proves his right to control the passport.
As-Safir: What are the foundations that specify the ruler’s powers in this context?
Khalaf: The citizenship requirements were identified in the 1930s and amended in the 1970s, denying the withdrawal of nationality except in cases of high treason. Threatening the state’s security is a reason that was recently adopted to withdraw nationality and we were accused of that in order to justify the authorities’ decision. It is necessary to prove this charge by providing documents and witnesses.
Moreover, nationality cannot be withdrawn based on this charge before a fair trial has been guaranteed, allowing the suspect to defend himself. Based on these conditions, what happened is a violation of Bahrain’s law and it seems that the interior ministry, which took this decision, has acquired powers that are not meant for it, since it is known that only the ruler has this right.
The [interior] minister decided to expand his powers, with the approval of the ruler of course, in order to exert pressure on the opposition. I need to note that Britain didn’t withdraw nationality from Abu Hamza al-Masri, who doesn’t have the British citizenship by birth, in spite of the charges against him.
As-Safir: Some of those affected by the decision are Bahrainis while others have Iranian origin. Is there any distinction between these parties in the decision?
Khalaf: In fact, talking about the origin of those whose nationality has been withdrawn is funny. Some people’s ancestors are not from Bahrain, but they and their parents were born in Bahrain. The king’s new law abolishes the distinction between Bahrainis by descent or by naturalization, while this distinction existed in the past. At that time, we said that amending this article was purely humanitarian, and what has recently happened is a coup against humanity.
As-Safir: How do you explain the authorities’ decision at present?
Khalaf: After the list of 31 names was issued, there were rumors stating that other names will be added for the withdrawal of nationality. I guess that the authorities are taking several measures at the same time, because they believe that they are able to eliminate the opposition.
They are stripping citizens of their nationality, arresting people for bombings and other reasons and launching dirty media campaigns against prominent figures from the opposition. However, these measures are nothing more than proof that the authorities are frustrated.
As-Safir: Are you going to respond to this decision, and how?
Khalaf: Of course, those whose nationality was withdrawn will coordinate with each other and with international human rights organizations regarding the steps that will be taken. A meeting will be held soon in Geneva, where committees will examine the excuses given by the authorities to withdraw nationality.
As for the legal measures that will be taken in Bahrain, the issue is worth examination by lawyers who know whether or not a result will be reached. However, the problem can be summarized with the fact that citizens can file a complaint — even though they have evidence proving their innocence — the court will decide that the offender is not guilty because he is member of security forces for example, and the authorities are afraid of accusing a security member, even if he is low ranked, for fear of affecting senior officials.
As-Safir: What about the fact that you have the Swedish citizenship, is it an excuse to deprive you from the Bahraini one?
Khalaf: My Swedish citizenship cannot be a reason. First, the decision has nothing to do with this issue and it is an unfair decision in all cases. Secondly, according to Bahraini law, before stripping the nationality of someone holding a dual citizenship, he is required to be given the right to choose, in the first place. The relevant person has the right to choose between the two nationalities that he has.
As-Safir: Finally, what can you say?
Khalaf: I would like to note that when my passport was withdrawn in 1978, the circumstances were much worse. Bahrain was just a small country that nobody had ever heard of. Moreover, my personal situation was very difficult and I didn’t have a place of refuge other than West Beirut.
Between 1978 and 2001, the authorities did not renew my and many others’ passports, but that has not prevented us from struggling. Despite everything the authorities will do, people will triumph in the end.
This article was first published in Arabic on 9/11/2012. Read original article.