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Bahrain’s removal of top cleric nationality unjust: UN rights office

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The United Nations human rights body has censured the Bahraini regime's recent decision to strip prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim, of his citizenship, denouncing the move as unreasonable under the international law.

Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), made the criticism at a UN briefing in the Swiss city of Geneva on Tuesday.

Shamdasani stressed that the right to nationality, which has been guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, cannot be taken away for "arbitrary" reasons.

Referring to the case of Sheikh Qassim, whose citizenship was revoked by Manama, she said, "Given that due process was not followed, it cannot be justified."

On Monday, Bahrain’s Interior Ministry accused the clergyman of seeking the “creation of a sectarian environment” through his connections with foreign powers. 

Bahraini demonstrators attend a protest against the revocation of the citizenship of top Bahraini Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim (portrait), near Qassim's house in Diraz, west of Manama, June 20, 2016. ©AFP

Elsewhere in her comments, the UN official expressed concern over an "intensified crackdown" on freedoms and rights in the tiny Persian Gulf state, urging Bahrain to respect the right to peaceful assembly.

She further called on the Al Khalifah regime to ensure civil society activists won't face "undue pressure, intimidation or reprisals."

According to some estimates, the number of those deprived of their nationality in Bahrain is higher than the current 250, she added.

The latest move by the Bahraini regime against the Shia cleric came less than a week after the Bahraini Justice Ministry suspended all activities of al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, the main opposition group in the country.

The kingdom also dissolved two other opposition groups, namely al-Tawiya and al-Risala Islamic associations.

Al-Wefaq’s Secretary General Sheikh Ali Salman has been in prison since December 2014 on charges of attempting to overthrow the regime and collaborating with foreign powers, which he has denied.

Bahraini men hold placards bearing the portrait of senior cleric Sheikh Ali Salman during a protest against his arrest at the al-Wefaq headquarters in Zinj, near Manama, May 29, 2016. © AFP

Since mid-February 2011, Bahrain, a close ally of the US in the Persian Gulf region, has been witnessing almost daily protests demanding that the ruling family relinquish power.

The Al Khalifah regime is engaged in a harsh crackdown on dissent and widespread discrimination against the country's Shia majority. Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others injured or arrested in the island country.

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