The United Arab Emirates is taking the rare step of revoking the citizenship of six men because of alleged security concerns, although those involved say they are being unjustly targeted for their political views.
The order was issued earlier this month by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the UAE, according to an announcement made by state news agency WAM on Thursday.
The move is likely to renew debate about the UAE’s handling of calls for reform in the wake of this year’s Arab Spring uprisings.
The Gulf nation has not seen any of the street protests that have rocked other countries in the region, although officials have taken steps to stamp down any signs of dissent.
The six Emirati men, along with another man who said he had also been stripped of citizenship, denounced the move in a statement posted on the internet.
One of them, Islamic scholar Mohammed Abdel-Razzaq al-Siddiq, said in an interview that he and others losing their passports had signed a petition earlier this year calling for legislative changes and freer elections.
He said he believes they were “targeted because we demanded political reforms”.
In the online statement, the men described themselves as members of an Islamist organisation known as the Reform and Social Guidance Association. They urged the UAE’s leaders to “stop all oppressive measures against advocates of reform in the country”.
The state news agency quoted an unnamed source at the General Administration for Naturalisation, Residency and Ports Affairs who said the six men had acted to threaten “the national security of the UAE through their connection with suspicious regional and international organisations and personalities”.
Some of the men were associated with groups that have been linked with terrorist financing, the state news agency said. They were granted Emirati citizenship between 1976 and 1986, according to the report.
The report didn’t provide details or say where the men, who were naturalised citizens, originally came from.
A person familiar with the case told the Associated Press news agency that four of the men were of Iranian origin and two came from Yemen. He said the men’s Emirati citizenship status was revoked “once it became clear that the rules under which they were granted [citizenship] were being violated”.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the matter publicly. Officials at the naturalisation and residency office couldn’t be reached for comment.
Al-Siddiq said he has family ties to Iran, but added that he was born in Kuwait and moved to what would become the UAE as a young boy.
Political activity is severely restricted in the UAE, an alliance of seven semi-autonomous states, each ruled by a hereditary sheikh. There are no official opposition groups in the country and political parties are banned.
The parliament serves as an advisory body, and its 40 members are either directly appointed by the ruling sheikhs or elected by voters hand-picked by the rulers.
Five political activists, including a prominent blogger and an economics professor, were convicted late last month on anti-state charges that included insulting the UAE’s top leadership, endangering national security and inciting people to protest.
They were pardoned by the federation’s president a day after their sentences of two to three years in jail were handed down.