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Key Bahrain activists not among hundreds having citizenship restored

Notable opposition figures and activists not had their rights returned by King Hamad's recent decree, Reuters reports
King Hamad al-Khalifa's decree, undoing court's decision to strip 551 people of their nationalities, excludes key activists

A decision issued by Bahrain's king last week reinstating the citizenship of hundreds of prisoners has left out major opposition and activist figures, the Reuters news agency reported on Monday.

Bahrain's interior minister released on Saturday the names of 551 people regaining citizenship under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa's decree, which undid punitive measures that have garnered worldwide criticism.

According to a government statement, the decision was made to give these people "an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves".

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The spokesperson said the government has begun the process of reinstatement for those on the list, adding that "court decisions to revoke citizenship are taken to ensure safety and security throughout Bahrain".

While those identified on the list were mainly from Shia families, according to activists, prominent figures such as Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of the kingdom's Shia majority, were not included, Reuters reported. 

Qassim's citizenship was revoked in 2016. The government subsequently allowed him to travel to Britain for medical care, and he moved from there to Iran.

Protests and crackdown

Bahrain was the only Gulf Arab state to have experienced major unrest during the 2011 "Arab Spring" regional protests, which the country's rulers quashed with the help of Saudi Arabia.

Since then, the government has overseen a crackdown on voices of dissent and has stifled the opposition. Most of the country's leading opposition figures and rights activists are imprisoned or have fled abroad. 

Periodic clashes erupt between protesters and security forces, who have been targeted by several bomb attacks.

Since the 2011 protests, Bahrain has prosecuted hundreds of activists in mass trials and banned the main opposition groups.

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King Hamad's decision came only days after the United Nations criticised Bahrain for stripping 138 men of their citizenship in a mass trial for alleged links to a "terrorist cell" prosecutors claimed was established at Iran's behest. 

The British-based activist group the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said Bahrain has stripped at least 990 people of their citizenship since 2012.

"Since amendments to the anti-terror law were passed in 2014, the use of revocation of citizenship has increased dramatically, in many cases targeting journalists, human rights defenders and critics of the government," BIRD's director Sayed Ahmed al-Wadaei told Reuters on Sunday. A prominent activist, Wadaei was stripped of his citizenship in 2015.

Reuters spoke to one person on the list who had previously been jailed for membership of a terrorist group and possession of weapons, and who for safety reasons asked not to be identified.

The person's family was called on Tuesday and told to collect their passport, which had been confiscated by authorities. The passport had, however, expired and the individual is awaiting government approval to renew it.