Bahrain human rights activist granted British citizenship after three year delay

The Home Office has granted British citizenship to a Bahraini human rights activist after The Independent exposed how Foreign Office officials had been accused of blocking the application for diplomatic reasons.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, a director at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, had been waiting on a decision for more than three years despite being granted political asylum in 2012. The government promise to make a decision on British citizenship within six months of application.

Mr Alwadaei received news that his application had been successful on Monday but the decision letter was dated on 20th June, the day that The Independent published its story.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei had been waiting over three years for his British citizenship application to be processed (PA)
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei had been waiting over three years for his British citizenship application to be processed (PA)

Emails between the Foreign Office and the Home Office showed that Home Office officials had been pushing to grant Mr Alwadaei’s citizenship as “there are no grounds to refuse the application”. However officials at the Foreign Office have been dragging their feet after being consulted about whether granting Mr Alwadaei citizenship would affect bilateral relations with Bahrain.

Foreign Office emails refer to notes in August 2022 and March 2023 on Mr Alwadaei and “the implications arising from granting him British citizenship”. FCDO officials confirmed in July 2023 that they would not be submitting any formal representations to the home secretary about the application, after they were told their opinions could be made public in court.

Nearly a year on no decision about the citizenship application had been made, until last week.

Mr Alwadaei told The Independent : “After three years of frustrating delays, driven by the Foreign Offices’ fears of jeopardizing relations with Bahrain, I am grateful to receive the news that I will finally be granted British citizenship.

“The Home Offices’ 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.

“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.”

Ben Keith, Mr Alwadaei’s barrister, said it was good news that his client has now been granted British citizenship but added: “It is deeply concerning that the government was more concerned about upsetting Bahrain, a country which uses torture and repression on a daily basis than the rights of Mr Alwadaei who was granted protection from Bahrain specifically because he will be tortured and imprisoned if he returns there.”

Daniel Carey, partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn, added: “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. 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.”

The government said it cannot comment on individual cases.