World

MANAMA (Web Desk) – The Kingdom of Bahrain has stripped its most prominent Shia cleric of his citizenship.

An interior ministry statement accused Sheikh Isa Qassim of using his position to “serve foreign interests” and promote “sectarianism and violence”, the BBC reported on Monday.

The cleric, who holds the religious rank of Ayatollah, has backed protests led by the majority Shia community for greater civil and political rights. Last week, the government suspended the leading Shia opposition grouping.

Announcing the move to strip him of his Bahraini citizenship, the interior ministry said the cleric had “adopted theocracy and stressed the absolute allegiance to the clergy”.

It added that he had been in continuous contact with “organisations and parties that are enemies of the kingdom”.

Bahraini authorities said the offices of the Wefaq National Islamic Society had also been closed and its assets frozen. A lawyer for the group said the move had come “out of the blue”.

A US diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks describes Sheikh Isa Qassim as Wefaq’s spiritual leader. He is also regarded as the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s wider Shia community.

The US cable said the cleric had studied in the Iranian city of Qom in the 1990s and also spent time in the Iraqi city of Najaf, another centre of Shia learning.

The UN’s universal declaration of human rights says everyone has the right to a nationality and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of it.

But Bahrain’s citizenship law allows for the cabinet to revoke the citizenship of anyone who “causes harm to the interests of the kingdom or behaves in a way inimical with the duty of loyalty to it.”

Human Rights Watch says more than 200 Bahrainis were stripped of their citizenship last year, in some cases making them stateless.

Ayatollah Qassim was born in Bahrain and activists say he does not hold any other nationality.