A refugee disowned by his country

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

In Melbourne, there is a man without a home today.


Not in the sense we might normally mean.

This is the story of a man whose very country has been pulled out from under him.

Sayed Alawi al-Beladi was browsing on Twitter when his life changed before his eyes.

His country — the land where his children, his parents, his siblings still live — had revoked his nationality.

1200 kilometres away, at his home in Melbourne, the Bahraini refugee checked on Facebook, then on the web site of Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News.

“They listed 31 Bahrainis, and my number was 13 … (on) the list.”

Formally, the name on the list reads Alawi Saeed Sayed Sharaf.

Al-Beladi, a popular name around his home area in Bahrain, is the surname he adopted after coming to Australia as a refugee, via Iran, 15 years ago.

Back then, he had been exiled, as he terms it, because he spoke out against the government.

Now, the Bahrain government has taken it one step further after the 45-year-old Mr al-Beladi continued to speak out.

“My activity on Twitter, or (my) interview with SBS, that’s the reason for this decision.”

SBS Radio’s Arabic program had interviewed Sayed Alawi al-Beladi on three different occasions about the ongoing unrest in Bahrain.

Considered an articulate voice for the opposition, he has had his nationality revoked alongside some other, very well-known Shi’ite Muslim opposition figures.

Among them are the brothers and former MPs Jawad and Jalal Fairuz, and Ali Mashaima, son of a leading activist.

The human-rights group Amnesty International has described the decision as chilling, calling on Bahrain to rescind the ruling.

Amnesty International Australia’s Michael Hayworth says it appears clear the 31 are simply being punished for being political dissidents.

“Amnesty’s particularly surprised at this really quite frightening and chilling punishment of what seems to be 31 activists who’ve been stripped of their Bahraini citizenship — leaving some of these people stateless. Obviously, that’s a severe abuse of international human-rights law. And we call on the Bahraini authorities to come within their international human-rights obligations.”

The International Federation for Human Rights says 80 people have died in 18 months of unrest in Bahrain between the Sunni Muslim-led government and the majority Shi’ite people.

The latest move to revoke the nationality of the 31 comes after the government banned all protests and gatherings, in the name of maintaining security, late in October.

Bahrain is home to the United States navy’s Fifth Fleet and is strategically situated across the Persian Gulf from Iran.

But the Bahrain Australia Youth Movement’s Abdul Elah al-Hubaishi is urging the United States and Britain to put aside their strategic interests and help the Bahraini people.

He is asking for the Australian government’s help, too.

“We know Australia doesn’t have any power over Bahrain, but they have a good relationship with the UK and the USA, so we wish that they would put some pressure on those countries to try to put the pressure on Bahrain.”

Mr al-Hubaishi also disputes the Bahrain government’s claim this week that multiple bombings in the capital Manama have killed two people.

The government says the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah was responsible, and it has arrested four people.

Mr al-Hubaishi says there is no evidence the bombings happened.

“We are asking (for) an independent investigation from the United Nations or from any other party who is an independent (body), not related to the government, not related to the opposition, to come forward to Bahrain and investigate all this, what we believe is a, fabricated case against the opposition. Because, there is no single (piece of) evidence showing that it’s happened. Because, if it’s a bomb, at least somebody will hear the bomb … there will be a fire … there will be something which will show there is a bomb. But there is nothing of that.”

Meanwhile, Sayed Alawi al-Beladi sits at home mulling a much more personal perspective to what has happened.

He worries about what it means, not just for him, but also, back in Bahrain, for his two young daughters, his parents, his sisters.

“I am sure they will do more than this, (to) myself or (to) my family. If they catch me, they may kill me … may do anything.”

And then there are the questions that only a man banished from his country is forced to ponder.

“I feel very bad, because I am Bahraini, from my parents, from my grandparents … or, generally, I’m from Bahrain since thousands of years, you know? And how come, because I speak a few words, I become non-Bahraini, by one decision, a quick decision? It’s not fair.”