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UN voices alarm at Bahrain decision to strip 138 of nationality

By AFP - Apr 18,2019 - Last updated at Apr 18,2019

This photo taken on March 31, 2012, shows a Bahraini demonstrator draped the Bahraini flag as smoke rises from tear gas fired by riot police during a protest on the southern outskirts of Manama (AFP photo)

GENEVA — The UN human rights chief expressed alarm Thursday at Bahrain's decision this week to revoke the citizenship of 138 people convicted in a mass trial of planning an Iran-linked "terror" group.

A Bahraini court on Tuesday handed 139 men — many of them tried in absentia — to prison terms of three years to life for having tried to build a Bahrain Hizbollah, similar to the Shiite militia active in Lebanon.

It stripped all but one of them of their nationality.

The UN human rights office said it had received information that 17 of those convicted were minors between the ages of 15 and 17.

"Tuesday's convictions give rise to serious concerns about the application of the law, particularly through a mass trial that reportedly lacked the procedural safeguards necessary to ensure a fair trial," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

"Deprevation of nationality must not be arbitrary, especially on discriminatory grounds," she said, stressing that "arbitrary deprivation of nationality places the individuals concerned and their family members in a situation of increased vulnerability to human rights violations".

The rights office pointed out that the revocation of nationality is prohibited under international law "if it does not serve a legitimate aim or is disproportionate".

Bachelet also expressed concern at reports of torture or other ill-treatment of some of those convicted, and urged Bahrain authorities to take "immediate steps" to prevent such violations.

She also demanded they investigate all such allegations and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.

Ruled for more than two centuries by the Sunni Al Khalifa dynasty, Bahrain has a majority Shiite Muslim population, according to unofficial estimates contested by the government.

The small Gulf state, a key US ally located between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been gripped by bouts of unrest since 2011, when authorities cracked down on Shiite-led protests demanding political reform.

Since then, hundreds of protesters have been jailed or stripped of their nationality, with Bahrain claiming Iran trained and backed demonstrators in order to topple the Manama government — an accusation Tehran denies.

All opposition groups have been banned and disbanded.

According to the UN human rights office, Tuesday's verdict brings to around 980 the number of people who have been stripped of their Bahraini nationality since 2012.

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