June 27, 2008

Baluchistan: Noordin Mengal Detained in US

Sample ImageBaluchistan human rights activist and British citizen Noordin Mengal has been denied entry to the US and detained without access to a lawyer or the British consulate.

Below is a press release issued by the Baluchistan National Party:

On June 23rd, Baluch human rights defender Noordin Mengal was detained at Newark Liberty International Airport in the US on his arrival from the United Arab Emirates. After being held for nearly 26 hours in the custody of the United States Department of Homeland Security, he was sent back to Dubai after being denied entry to the US. Noordin Mengal, grandson of veteran Baluch leaders Sardar Attaullah Mengal and Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, is a British citizen and a representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council on behalf of Interfaith International and is also a member of the Baluchistan National Party.

Upon arrival at Newark Liberty at 6:35 pm, Mengal was detained for questioning by the Customs and Border Protection Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security. Mengal was questioned about Baluchistan and the purpose of his human rights activities. Mengal was subsequently told that he would not be granted entry to the United States and could return only after being issued a visa by a US State Department abroad. Under the visa waiver programme, however, British nationals are exempted from formal visa procedures and can freely visit the US for a maximum stay of no more than three months on each entry. Mengal asked an officer if he could call an official at the British consulate. The official confirmed his right to do so, but told him it would only be possible just prior to his departure. Mengal was denied access to a telephone to contact his family and no one from the US government informed Mengal’s family of the developments. At approximately 9:30 pm, Mengal was told that he would be sent to the UK.

According to Mengal, the detention room was empty by 11 pm. At 2 am he was once again taken for formal questioning, of which a transcript was supposed to be given to him. Mengal stated that officers had decided to send him back prior to the second interrogation, and that this was to be just a formality. He also stated that at the end of the questioning, he was asked if he would like to call someone within the US, as he could not call internationally. He was told it was late, but was assured that he could make a call in the morning.

Mengal was informed that he would be given a place to rest, but was made to sit on a chair for nearly another 10 hours, during which time he was repeatedly told that he would soon be taken to another facility. At approximately 6 am he was given a thermoplastic blanket (disposable emergency sheet made of yellow polythylene with a cellulose matting insulation) to use. At around 11 am, a group was sent to take Mengal to another facility. The authorities shackled Mengal, locked his handcuffs to a heavy chain looped around his waist, and led him through the airport lounge to the back of a white armored detention vehicle parked outside the airport. The vehicle was outfitted with a padlocked caged door in the rear and two caged partitions inside. Mengal was driven to the Elizabeth detention facility in New Jersey, where he was held in a white detention cell with an armored steel door. Mengal estimates he was there for over 5 hours, during which time a number of prisoners from the Republic of Columbia, convicted of illegally residing in the US, joined him in the cell. On questioning the officer regarding his status, Mengal was told that he was not a criminal, nor an offender. Mengal asked the officer if a British citizen had ever been detained at this facility. The officer replied, “Never.”

In the evening, Mengal was once again restrained with fetters and manacles and transported back to the airport, where he was escorted through the arrivals lounge to the offices of the Department of the Homeland Security. Mengal asked an official if he had the right to call a lawyer. He was told he was not now entitled to one and could only have done so on the day of his arrival. On the day of his arrival, however, he was not informed of any of his rights, nor was he allowed to contact anyone. By 8 pm, Mengal was escorted to a Qatar Airways aircraft by officials of the US Immigration and Customs enforcement, who continued to interrogate him for another half hour while criticizing his human rights activities. Mengal was told he was being sent back to Dubai and that even if he returned, having attaining a visa, there was still a possibility he could be denied entry. Mengal was informed that he was not being deported, but rather was regarded as inadmissible. Throughout his detention, Mengal was denied the right to contact an official from either the British embassy or consulate.

Mengal boarded Qatar Airways flight QR 84 in which he flew to Geneva, Switzerland, where he was escorted to an isolated lounge before being escorted back to a plane departing for Doha. On arriving in Doha, he was again escorted to a Dubai bound plane QR 114. Mengal's documents were not returned to him until he arrived at the immigration investigation department in Dubai International airport.

It is pertinent to state that throughout his detention, Mengal was denied the right to speak to an official from the British embassy or consulate—a clear violation of the Vienna Convention. Furthermore, on hearing of the US Government's refusal to allow Mengal to enter the US, many officials in the US, Qatar and UAE were stunned by the treatment meted out to a British citizen.

The Baluch condemn any act that denies innocent people their rights and consider Mengal’s detention a clear violation of human rights. The Baluch appeal to US authorities to uphold its democratic norms and avoid becoming party to a long history of unjustifiable persecution and victimization of the democratic, secular, progressive and peaceful Baluch and British-Baluch.

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