Bahrain urged to restore dissidents' citizenship

Bahraini lawyer Taymur Karimi, whose citizenship has been revoked by Bahraini authorities, stands in his house in Muharraq, east of Manama, on November 9, 2012 (AFP Photo/Mohammed al-Shaikh) (AFP/File)

Dubai (AFP) - Amnesty International urged Bahrain Thursday to restore the citizenship of dozens of dissidents stripped of their nationality in a government decree that handed them the same punishment as suspected jihadists.

The human rights watchdog said that last Saturday's decision against 72 people had treated peaceful activists in the same way as Bahrainis suspected of travelling to Iraq or Syria to fight for the Islamic State group.

"The authorities have put the names of a number of known Bahraini human rights and political activists on the same list as other Bahrainis who have been alleged IS fighters," it said.

Amnesty said that any move that risked leaving a person stateless should be taken only after due legal process and within the strict limits set by international conventions.

Information Minister Isa Abdulrahman al-Hammadi has said that most of those targeted "are abroad and can challenge the decision legally".

The Sunni-ruled but Shiite-majority Gulf state has been wracked by unrest since Shiite-led protests for parliamentary government and a constitutional monarchy were bloodily crushed in 2011.

The kingdom's main Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, has said that most of those stripped of their citizenship -- around 50 -- were dissidents living in exile.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said the list also included at least four journalists -- all of whom were "forced into exile because of legal threats."

"Bahraini journalists who dare to express critical views already face serious risks, including legal action and imprisonment. Now Bahrain is punishing them by taking away what they value most," it said.

It is not the first time that Bahrain has used counter-terrorism powers to strip dissidents of their citizenship but last week's decision targeted the largest number so far.