High Court confirms end of Bahraini prince’s immunity from torture charges

Tuesday 7 October 2014

After a two-year court battle, the UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions has accepted that Bahraini Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa is not immune from prosecution. Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Cranston granted a declaration confirming this decision at a divisional court hearing in the High Court today. This decision opens the door to an investigation by the metropolitan police War Crimes Team SO15 into allegations that the prince was involved in the torture of political prisoners, and a possible prosecution.

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A Bahraini torture survivor, known only as FF brought the case to challenge the Director of Public Prosecution‘s (DPP) decision of August 2012 that the Prince has state immunity from prosecution. The case was due to be contested in court on 7 October when the DPP decided to back down, and withdraw their decision that the prince was immune. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which initially raised the torture allegations with Prime Minister David Cameron and then Foreign Minister William Hague around the time of the 2012 Olympics, was an interested party in the proceedings.

FF said:

“Now the prince has lost his immunity he will need to consider the risk of investigation, arrest and prosecution when he is travelling outside Bahrain. Whilst he is visiting other royal families and horse-riding, there are 13 prisoners of conscience. Two of them have said in open court in Bahrain that the Prince tortured them, yet they were still convicted. It is time for the British government to review its policy of co-operation and support for this regime”.

FF’s solicitor, Sue Willman of Deighton Pierce Glynn said:

“The UK has a duty under the Convention against Torture and under its own laws to investigate, arrest and prosecute those who are alleged to have committed acts of torture abroad. They should be applied to all, regardless of the UK’s economic interests.”

Andreas Schueller, ECCHR legal advisor, said:

“The DPP’s decision on immunity was contrary to international law. The UK must not avoid diplomatically sensitive investigations and must now consider launching a serious investigation.”

In reaction to the press release, Hussain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain said:

“For too long there has been a culture of impunity at the highest of government in Bahrain. Time and time again, we have seen that justice is not attainable within the country. We have to look to other countries, where human rights are respected, for some kind of accountability. This case against Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa is just the beginning. The human rights community in Bahrain and around the world has been waiting a very long time for this day.”

FF was represented by Sue Willman, partner in Deighton Pierce Glynn, instructing Dinah Rose QC and Tom Hickman of Blackstones Chambers and Kirsty Brimelow QC of Doughty Street Chambers.

ECCHR instructed Stephen Knafler QC and Shu Shin Luh of the Garden Court Public and Administrative Law Team.

The case has been reported widely by national and international media, including by the BBC, Channel 4, ITV News, Reuters, The Independent and the Guardian.

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Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa is the son of the King of Bahrain and a regular visitor to the UK where he attended Sandhurst and has met Prince Charles. His three children were born in the UK and he is well-known on the European endurance horse riding competitions circuit. As chair of the Bahrain’s Olympic Committee, he represented Bahrain at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. At that time, the ECCHR and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) called on the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to block the Prince’s entry into the country for the London Olympic Games. The organisations wrote to the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary William Hague asking for the withdrawal of the Prince‘s Olympics visitor’s visa. They sent a detailed dossier summarising publicly available information, including witness statements from Bahraini opposition members, about allegations of torture. They asked for action to be taken. They put the Crown Prosecution Service and the War Crimes Team of the London Metropolitan Police, SO15, on notice of the dossier.

FF, a Bahraini refugee in the UK, who had himself been detained and tortured, took up the case and instructed Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors to write to the CPS asking for the Prince to be arrested and prosecuted while he was here for the Olympics. The CPS replied stating that the Prince had immunity from arrest and prosecution. FF applied for a judicial review of the DPP’s decision on 26 October 2012. The client is anonymised as FF to protect his family from possible reprisals and a strict anonymity order was made at the outset of the case.

In February 2011, a pro-democracy movement in Bahrain rallied for more participation in the political process in Manama and other cities of Bahrain. The protests were brutally stopped by Bahraini security forces, but are nevertheless still on-going. On 15 March 2011, the King of Bahrain declared a state of emergency and a first wave of repressive actions by government forces took place. At this time, two opposition leaders of Bahrain, when detained in the Manama Fort prison clinic Al-Qala’a (seat of the Ministry of Interior), alleged being flogged, beaten and kicked by the son of the King, Nasser bin Hamad. Both opposition leaders were sentenced to lengthy imprisonment. Amnesty International and other groups recognise them as prisoners of conscience. A national investigation team of international experts and the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) published its report in November 2011, detailing torture allegations against government security personnel and recommending investigations. To date, an investigation of the aforementioned allegations of the two prisoners of conscience against Nasser bin Hamad has not been initiated or at least has not been publically reported about. Meanwhile, Nasser bin Hamad travels frequently to the UK and a number of other European states, without facing investigations by local prosecution services.

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