DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain has deported eight people to Iraq after they were convicted of damaging state security and stripped of citizenship, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Sunday.
Last week’s deportations are seen by local activists as part of a crackdown on people the government considers a threat to the stability of the Western-allied Gulf Arab state, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based.
Bahrain was rocked by protests during the Arab Spring in 2011, mainly by members of the country’s Shi’ite Muslim majority who demanded a bigger share in running the kingdom, whose leaders are Sunni Muslim.
The eight were deported after an appeals court upheld a 2012 lower court ruling that stripped nine people of citizenship and ordered them deported, the rights group said.
Two brothers were deported on Jan. 29 and two others were deported the following day. A man, his wife and his two brothers were deported on Feb. 1, the group said. The ninth person was abroad when the sentence was passed.
Bahraini officials did not respond to a request for comment.
A total of 578 people have been stripped of citizenship since the kingdom began using the punishment against people convicted of security offences, the rights group said.
A Bahraini court stripped a total of 72 people of citizenship in two separate cases on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 after they were convicted on terrorism charges.
“Bahraini authorities have dropped all pretence of pluralism and tolerance for dissent and are clearly stripping away the citizenships of people whom they find undesirable,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.
The Interior Ministry uses amendments to the 1963 Citizenship Act to revoke the citizenship of individuals it sees as damaging state security, the group said.
The Supreme Court has confirmed a decision to revoke the citizenship of the spiritual leader of Bahraini Shi’ites, Ayatollah Isa Qassim, HRW said in the statement. It also upheld a one-year prison sentence against him on charges related to the collection of an Islamic tax called Khums.
Qassim has been confined to his home since his citizenship was revoked last year. He has undergone surgery at a hospital in Bahrain and been discharged, activists said.
Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg