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Bahraini activist granted UK citizenship after threatening legal action

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei welcomes the 'significant and turning point' in his life as a torture survivor and refugee after a three-year delay in his application
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei has been in exile in the UK since 2012 (Moosa Mohamed)
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei has been in exile in the UK since 2012 (Moosa Mohamed)
By Sondos Shalaby in London

Bahraini human rights defender Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei has been granted British citizenship after a three-year delay in his application, according to a letter from the Home Office shared with Middle East Eye.

MEE and the Independent revealed last week that the delay in Alwadaei's citizenship decision was linked to an advisory opinion by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which cited potential strain on UK-Bahrain relations if his application is successful. 

Alwadaei is a Bahraini dissident, torture survivor and advocacy director at the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD). He has been in exile since 2012 after fleeing the government of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and being granted refugee status in the UK.

Prior to receiving his citizenship decision, Alwadaei had been stateless since 2015, when the Bahraini government stripped him of his nationality. But he has had indefinite leave to remain in the UK and applied for citizenship in May 2021.

"After three years of frustrating delays, driven by the Foreign Office's fears of jeopardising relations with Bahrain, I am grateful to receive the news that I will finally be granted British citizenship," he told MEE on Wednesday.

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"The Home Office's decision will bring an end to my statelessness, which began in 2015 when the Bahraini regime revoked my citizenship due to my human rights work," he added.

"Having fled torture and imprisonment in Bahrain, this moment marks a significant and hopeful turning point in my life. This would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of my legal team led by Daniel Carey of Deighton Pierce Glynn."

'Having fled torture and imprisonment in Bahrain, this moment marks a significant and hopeful turning point in my life'

-  Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, human rights activist

The application process usually takes a maximum of six months. However, the Home Office, responsible for visa and citizenship applications in the UK, has delayed the decision until its letter on 20 June notifying Alwadaei of his successful application.

Alwadaei’s lawyers had threatened to initiate legal proceedings against the Home Office after issuing an ultimatum to make a decision or provide a clear timeline by 17 June.

According to Alwadaei, a disclosure from a Subject Access Request revealed that the Foreign Office attempted to block the Home Office from granting him citizenship despite meeting all the legal requirements. 

The disclosure shows that the FCDO sent two notes, in August 2022 and March 2023, warning the Home Office against granting Alwadaei citizenship on the basis of “bilateral implications” and “good character” and that the threat of public exposure caused them to back down. 

The internal documents seen by MEE suggest the Foreign Office feared being discovered in legal proceedings if Alwadaei challenged a rejection.

In April 2023, the FCDO asked the Home Office: “If the HO were to deny the application and S[ayed] went to appeal it through the courts, would the FCDO’s formal advice be permissible as a part of any proceedings? Is there a significant risk that FCDO advice will be made public?”

In response, the Home Office informed the FCDO, “With or without [the] Foreign Secretary’s views on the matter, the HO position is that S[ayed] meets all of the statutory requirements for citizenship and there are no grounds to refuse the application under HO policy instructions.”

Alwadaei noted that the FCDO appeared to drop its objection on 20 July 2023, stating it was “happy for this to go to the Home Office with no formal representations made by the FS”.  

However, the Home Office continued to delay the decision and missed multiple deadlines. 

Commenting on the citizenship decision, Daniel Carey, partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn, said: “It is a huge relief for my client to be granted citizenship over three years since he first applied. But serious questions linger as to why the UK government allowed 'bilateral concerns' - presumably Bahrain government sensitivities - to delay and potentially derail his application."  

"These are not a lawful consideration for citizenship applications," he told MEE. "We cannot grant asylum on the basis of suppression of pro-democracy and human rights activists in Bahrain only to allow that suppression to influence a later citizenship application.” 

Bahrain is an ally of the UK government. In July, the Gulf country was removed from the UK's list of human rights priority countries, prompting condemnation from rights groups who said the decision amounted to whitewashing. The removal came days after Manama pledged to invest £1bn ($1.26bn) in Britain. 

The Foreign Office did not respond to MEE's request for comment, saying questions about Alwadaei's case should instead be addressed to the Home Office.

A spokesperson for the Home Office told MEE: "It is longstanding government policy that we do not routinely comment on individual cases."

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