Sheikh Isa Qassem

Revoking Bahraini top cleric’s citizenship; How it illegal according to int’l law?

Alwaght- A few days ago, the Al Khalifa regime of Bahrain just against the international law and human rights principles stripped the top cleric and leader of Bahrain’s Shia Muslims Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim of his citizenship. The Bahraini daily Al-Wasat has reported that the revoking of nationality of Sheikh Qassim came as a result of anti-regime protests. Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior has argued that Sheikh Qassim’s citizenship was revoked due to promotion of sectarianism and division in the country. The ministry of interior has claimed that Sheikh Isa Qassim “served interests of foreign countries” and encouraged sectarianism and violence through pulpit and sermons.
Aside from the reasons and political consequences of the Al Khalifa’s move, this analysis aims at shedding light on the stripping the Shia cleric of his citizenship from legal aspects.
Legal analysis
The citizenship is a legal principle. Today citizenship is a legally recognized principle across the world with its own bases and rules clearly defined. Having its roots in the International law, the citizenship came to existence after the formation of the independent countries in their present concept. Following rise of concept of citizenship, there appeared other concepts like nationality and nationalism. Some argue that the citizenship indicates the relations of the individual with the government, so, it is part of the general rights. If we look at the citizenship from historical aspects, sometimes nativity of an individual in a specific city could be dubbed citizenship. Sometimes, the bases for citizenship of an individual are concerned with the religion and residence. However, in countries with authoritarian governments, the criteria for recognition of the citizenship is obedience to the ruler. But after the Renaissance and establishment of different governments with nationalistic tendencies, the nationality-based citizenship criteria took new form. Therefore, with a consolidation of the various definitions of citizenship, the following features for it could be touched upon:

– Citizenship is a political relation because it links the individual to the government, and it is under this bond that the political protection right is granted to the individual.

– The citizenship is an international relation because the nationals of a country who enjoy their government’s support even when they are out of their own country.

– Citizenship is a domestic relation because in the domestic system of governing the citizens have political rights including the voting right.

– Citizenship is a legal relation because it brings about legal effects.

– Citizenship is a spiritual relation, and the factors of place and space do not affect it, and citizens of any country even in other countries are still their county’s citizens and use advantages.

For the citizenship to come to existence there must be a government. In its definition, the government is a legal entity, and according to the international law, it is recognized as an official representative of a population. The citizenship makes sense after a state is formed. In addition to existence of a state, there must be people who are called citizens. These two unite in a political and legal bond called citizenship. Other requirements of a citizenship are the belonging to a certain country, the political power, and being related to an independent political system.

General principles of citizenship
There are three general principles concerning the citizenship. All of the countries accepted them as bases for citizenship and usually they make their rules with a consideration of these three principles.

1. Everybody must have a citizenship.

2. Nobody must have more than a single citizenship.

3. Citizenship is not an unchangeable relation.

Accordingly, every individual must have a citizenship. When an individual is in need of the others’ help and cooperation, when an individual can’t fully meet his needs, when the world is divided into certain sovereign states with certain ruling power which has to provide the country with security and order, it is not acceptable that some people recognize themselves as not related to any state. The spiritual and material advantages that come from links with a state determine the necessity of a citizenship. If an individual has no citizenship, his rights and duties remain uncertain, and he ends up in trouble in an array of activities like crossing a country’s borders, residence in other states, marriage, employment, etc. Once his rights are violated, he cannot demand for compensation with support from his own state’s government.

Despite the mentioned principle and also the willingness of the countries not to see an individual without citizenship, many people are found while having no nationality. They are described as being subject to apartheid. Punishment by the state is one of the reasons some people lose their nationality.

Sometimes, a country puts revoking of nationality as a punishment in its laws, and so it strips some individuals of their nationality under this law. This comes while the convicts hadn’t earned any other country’s citizenship.

Revoking an original citizenship of a person as part of a punishment is blameable. But if the stripped citizenship is a granted one, it is justifiable to revoke it in line with the principle of sovereignty and the power of the states.

As a result of implementing punitive measures it is likely that the person loses his original citizenship and gains no new citizenship. So, internationally, when somebody is stripped of his nationality while it is congenital, it is not recognized as a punishment. It is considered an outrageous move, because to earn another state’s citizenship, the individual must present documents to verify his earlier citizenship. On the other side, the countries barely accept an individual who lost his nationality as a result of a punishment by his government. Therefore, once this punishment is implemented, it is very likely that the individual fails to get any other country’s citizenship and so remains without citizenship.

According to international law, the governments should do their best so that no individual remains without nationality. So, stripping an individual of his citizenship as an act of punishment is accepted only if the citizenship of an individual is a granted one and actually is earned in a time after the birth. In fact, the states are free in making citizenship laws and determination of the people’s citizenship, but the tangible facts, and political, social, and economic interests, as well as the international principles governing the citizenship that appear in different international documents and the states have to follow them, limit the governments.

These principles include:
– The need for citizenship and rejecting the statelessness. The governments should make laws so that any individual gets citizenship of a state upon his birth. The governments should avoid statelessness of the individual. Considering their conditions and interests, the states should determine the people’s citizenship according to their birthplace, residence, or a mix of these two.

– The necessity for singularity of the citizenship. The governments should make laws to only allow a single citizenship for the individual.

– Changeability of the citizenship. Based on the individual’s will or due to factors like marriage, or change of parents’ citizenship, the individuals could quit legal conditions of citizenship in their own country and get another country’s citizenship.

– Illegality of revoking the citizenship. In the past, there were cases of revoking one’s citizenship as a result of immigration or as an act of punishment. But today it is illegal for the government to strip the individual of his citizenship.

Moreover, the Article 15 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that everybody has the right to have a citizenship, and it is illegal to deprive anybody of their citizenship or the right to change citizenship.

According to the clear principles of international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the top Shia cleric of Bahrain Ayatollah Isa Qassim has citizenship of kingdom of Bahrain and so he cannot be stripped of his legal right under force or the excuse of punishment. Some argue that a state like Bahrain that withholds people’s rights to vote and where there are no election, freedoms and democracy, should not be expected to respect the international law.

The realistic statement made by Iran’s General Soleimani, the chief of IRGC Quds Force, who warned that people in Bahrain could resort to armed revolutionary ways to get their freedom is considerable because when the government fails to recognize the people’s legal rights and deprives them of their rights, people should not be expected to continue peaceful ways of protest after years of demonstrations. In fact, the behavior of the Bahraini government and its backers Saudi Arabia and the US is an obvious case of violation of international law and human rights. Such a behavior paves the way for armed confrontation. The possible armed clashes of people of Bahrain with the regime is not a demand of the Islamic Republic of Iran but a natural outcome of the regime’s disregard of the people’s basic rights that for years have been striving to obtain. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, citizenship is a legal right. Based on the four principles of rights in the International law, it seems that the individual’s claim for enjoying citizenship could be supported as a rightfully crucial claim. Such a claim urges the government to prepare the ground for the individual to have an officially-recognized nationality. In fact, the right to have a citizenship is a personal part of international laws, and revoking it ends in denying the individual his innate honor and morale, an act that at the end of the road leads to stripping the individual of his humanity.

Once an individual is denied his citizenship, he fails to enjoy any of his essential rights, and so is not recognized as a full member of the human community.

Having all these in mind, revoking ayatollah Isa Qassim’s citizenship is a blatant violation of international law and human rights.

By Al Waght