and to be Allowed to Visit the Detainees

Joshua Colangelo

Alwasat Newspaper- Amani Al-Maskati

27 Sep 2010

Mr. Joshua Colangelo Brian, a delegate From «Human Rights Watch» and a senior lawyer in the New York Office of the Dorsey & Whitney Institute, said he hoped to meet with officials from the Public Prosecutors office as well as from the Ministry of Interior in regards to the detainees arrested recently in relations to security issues.

Mr. Colangelo - Brian, who Alwasat had met during his current visit to Bahrain, described what had been said in regards to the expulsion of journalists from the private meeting he had with the family of detainees arrested in relations to the current security issues at Waad as «fabrication».

Following is the text of the meeting with Colangelo:

What is the purpose of your visit to Bahrain?

- «Human Rights Watch» launched a detailed report on Bahrain last February, and asked (in the report) for the Government to respond to what was written and to launch an investigation into the allegations that have been documented, but unfortunately we did not hear about any action taken, nor did we receive the governments reply to the report.

Recently, several reports have been released about the detainees arrested in relations to security issues, and abut two weeks ago we heard that a human rights activist, who we have worked with on several human rights cases, was included in pictures published in a Bahraini newspaper, published in English, with references to serious charges. When we heard of this, we decided that the time had come for an emergency visit to Bahrain.

Therefore, the goal is to investigate these reports and allegations by meeting with those involved. And consequently, we immediately requested a meeting with the concerned officials, but unfortunately did not receive any response to our request from the official authorities.

Who are the official bodies that you requested a meeting with?

- The Public Prosecutors Office as well as the Ministry of Interior. We also asked, through these requests, to meet with some of those arrested, but we have not received any response from these bodies as yet.

Have you met the defense counsel for the detainees arrested in relations to the security issues?

- Yes, I met some lawyers, but it is clear that the Public Prosecutors Office has identified the information that lawyers are allowed to discuss in regards to this case and that it has also prevented the press from publishing about it.

In any case, it must be emphasized that it is within the detainees’ right to meet with their families and their lawyers, as it is also their right to be treated well in their place of detention.

What do you think about the medias circulation of photos and personal information of detainees arrested in relations to the security issues?

- The description of a person as a "terrorist" and posting their picture on TV before they are presented to a trial to insure their involvement and conviction of carrying out terrorist acts is a very dangerous thing. We also regret the describing of an activist, who has collaborated with «Human Rights Watch» for years, as a "terrorist" and subjecting him to criticism because he defends those arrested in security issues.

I have personally worked with Bahraini human rights activists for several years, even before working for «Human Rights Watch», when I was a lawyer for the Bahraini detainees at «Guantánamo». And those human rights defenders, who I am talking about, were our biggest support in the case of the Guantánamo detainees. This proves to me that they are sincerely interested in human rights regardless of who the victims are. There is no doubt that the accusation that such individuals are terrorists or sectarian is laughable.

What is the truth about what happened in your meeting with the relatives of the “security issues” detainees which was held at the National Democratic Action Society (Waad), as you were accused of expelling some journalists from the meeting?

- I must make it clear that I did not know how the time was chosen nor how the participants of the meeting were selected, but when I heard that the families of detainees wanted to meet me to discuss their problems, I consented.

At the beginning of the meeting, it was clear that there were journalists from various newspapers in the audience, and consequently they were informed that the meeting was private and not public. That is when the journalists protested and some of them started screaming rudely and declaring that their attendance of the meeting is considered a human right. But I told all the journalists, at that time, that I would be happy to contact them and answer their questions after the meeting.

Did you speak with them personally after the meeting?

- I requested that they be contacted, because I do not speak Arabic and I was not confident that all of them spoke English. I was asked by one reporter during the meeting to contact him after the meeting, and that's what I did, as I called him after the meeting immediately and we talked together. As for the other journalists, I learned that they did not ask to contact me nor did they try to contact me later even though they were provided with my contact numbers. I think that what was conveyed about what happened at the meeting is just a clear fabrication. And I can say that these journalists did not have any desire to speak to me, and this is what was made apparent afterwards as they made no attempt to contact me after the meeting.

What was said to the reporters during the meeting, which made them angry enough to leave the society?

- The director of the meeting spoke to the reporters in Arabic, so I cannot know what he said exactly, but according to my understanding, he told them that the society which is hosting the meeting wants to keep the meeting private and without any press, and therefore, attendance would be limited to the organizers and families as well as me.

It is clearly impossible to hold a private meeting with journalists attending, as it would be the worst way in the world to hold a private meeting.

But how did the journalists learn of the meeting if there was no invitation addressed to them?

- I do not know, I did not inform any of the journalists of the meeting. I think it's a shame that so many articles be written on this subject and to attack the meeting, while there are many questions of far greater importance and urgency that are never referred to in the majority of the local newspapers.

Do you think that the fuss made during the meeting was aimed at the representative of «Human Rights Watch»?

- It's hard to know what the motives of the journalists were. For example, the journalist who I spoke to after the meeting, did not have any question about the reasons for Human Rights Watch’s visit to Bahrain. I can therefore say that there was no interest by any of the journalists who attended the meeting in the organization or the purpose of its visit to Bahrain.

What are the main issues discussed, with the families of those arrested, during the meeting?

- Most of what they said confirms what we had heard and read in the reports that have spread internationally. I cannot reveal details of what took place in the meeting out of respect to the desires of the families of the detainees who attended the private meeting.

What do you think about the decision to disband the Board of Directors of the Bahrain Human Rights Society?

- Formal Information disclosing the reasons for the closure of the society is not logical, and raises concern that the Society was not shut down because it violated the societies law, but because of the bold positions taken by the society on a number of issues.

Do you have any other meetings in Bahrain?

- So far, I have met with a large number of politicians and members of societies as well as some of the children who were arrested in security issues and then released, in addition to meeting with their families. But I do regret very much that I was not able to hold meetings with official bodies, because such meetings could have help in the current situation.

How will your organization deal with the information you have received during your visit to Bahrain?

- We will collect information on the cases, and then the organization will do what it finds suitable with the information that was collected.

I have a final word that I would like to say ... Prior to being a member of «Human Rights Watch» I spent thousands of hours in the defense of the Bahraini detainees at «Guantanamo». I traveled there 12 times, and I was, at that time, the only contact between the detainees and the rest of the world. I always spoke about the lack of justice in the detention of these Bahrainis in abusive conditions without allowing them to see their families and the imposing of severe restrictions on seeing their lawyers. And through all of this, I was supported by individuals in Bahraini Civil Society, such as Nabeel Rajab, and representatives from parliament and the media as well as official bodies.

And I think that the Bahrainis who have helped me in discussing these matters made it clear to all that Bahrainis support fellow Bahrainis, whether they are inside or outside Bahrain, and without consideration of their affiliation.