Sunday, May 22, 2011
Bahrain's parliament once gave me a standing ovation, now I've been banned from the kingdom – both for pursuing human rights
(Joshua Colangelo-Bryan is a consultant to Human Rights Watch.)
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 22 May 2011
"Six years ago, Bahrain's parliament gave me a standing ovation. This month, the Bahraini government barred me from entering the tiny kingdom which sits off Saudi Arabia's coast and hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet. While this fall from grace might seem extreme, it is easy to explain.
In 2005, I was representing the Bahrainis detained at Guantánamo Bay and, with a colleague, went to Bahrain to advocate on their behalf. We emphasised that the US had denied our clients due process, had asserted that our clients had no right to humane treatment, and had inflicted abuses on certain clients, as corroborated by US government sources.
Bahraini officials welcomed us with open arms. A prominent member of parliament invited us to a session at which Guantánamo would be discussed. There, he thundered that the rights to due process and humane treatment were universal, and decried that they were being denied to his fellow Bahrainis. Pointing to us in a spectators' balcony, he said we had done more for his countrymen than anyone and offered his heartfelt gratitude. His colleagues arose in spontaneous applause....
That was only a precursor, unfortunately, to the terrible events that began in February when Bahrainis took to the streets, peacefully demanding meaningful political participation. Security forces killed seven people and wounded hundreds. After briefly allowing demonstrations, on 14 March the security forces again crushed the protests. Martial law was declared, with the help of Saudi tanks. Killings, attacks and arrests continued thereafter.
This month, I travelled to Bahrain to investigate the situation and to meet Nabeel Rajab, a secular Shia activist who had been so instrumental to our Guantánamo work that he was with us in parliament when we received the standing ovation. Now the government is targeting him.
At immigration, the authorities told me that rather than being allowed to enter the country, I would be put on the next plane out. They said that doing the "kind of work" I did required a visa approved in advance. When I pointed out that on my numerous prior trips to Bahrain to do that "kind of work", I had got a visa on arrival, they told me that "things have changed".
Indeed, things have changed. I once advocated due process and humane treatment on behalf of Bahrainis who happened to be Sunni. Now, I am advocating due process and humane treatment on behalf of Bahrainis who happen to be Shia, largely. While the Bahraini government celebrated such principles six years ago as applied to my Guantánamo clients, it cannot countenance them now as applied to a majority of its own people, who are the subject of a massive crackdown.
As for me, my days of standing ovations in Bahrain appear to be over. In fact, my days in Bahrain appear to be over, period."