The son of the King of Bahrain, Prince Nasser Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, may have to revise his travel itinerary — the London High Court has ruled that the royal son is no longer immune from prosecution in UK courts over torture claims.
The case against the Bahraini prince was brought forward by a torture survivor, referred to only as FF, and whose identity was not revealed to protect him from further persecution. The case was denied in 2012 when British prosecutors decided that the prince enjoyed immunity. With the ruling, the dossier of torture allegations dating back to 2011, which was given to British prosecutors in 2012 while the prince was in the UK for the London Olympics, can now be investigated.
Prince Nasser, one of the 12 sons and daughters of the Bahraini king, could face arrest if he enters the UK. The news traveled fast on social media.
The tiny kingdom is ruled by the Al-Khalifa family, who control more than half the crucial positions in the country. The prince was allegedly one of the leading figures in the deadly crackdown against protests calling for political reform and equality for the majority Shia population in 2011.
He was most famous for declaring live on national TV:
All of those who called for the downfall of the regime will only have a wall falling over their heads…Bahrain is an island, and there is no where to escape to.
He was the head of the youth and sports organization in Bahrain at the time, and over 100 athletes were detained after his statement. The charges against the athletes arrested ranged from kidnapping to “stealing the king's chicken,” as journalist Faisal Hayyat tweeted:
سرقة الدجاج تهمة الصقت أيضا بالأخوين علي ومحمد ميرزا،تصوروا للتو عادوا من مشاركتهم في كأس العالم،ليتهموا بسرقة دجاج،ويحكوا ب-١٥ سنة #bahrain
— رياضيونا رهائن (@FaisalHayyat) April 1, 2012
Stealing chickens, a crime that the two brothers Ali and Mohamed Mirza were framed for. Imagine that they had just returned after participating in the [handball] World Cup only to be arrested for stealing chickens and sentenced to 15 years.
The Bahraini prince was also accused by prominent dissidents of having a direct hand in their torture. A special commission in 2011 found that Bahrain tortured and mistreated opponents of the regime.
Bahrain Mirror, an Arabic-language online Bahraini newspaper published from abroad, said it received a message from activist Mohamed Jawad Parweez who explained the torture he suffered at the prince's hands:
Nasser bin Hamad grabbed our heads and snapped them together. He shouted: How dare you chant for the downfall of Hamad and you are just scum. He started abusing us, began to flog, beat and kicked us everywhere, until he felt tired. He took a rest and drank water and then resumed the torture by pulling us from our hair and beards. No one else was involved in our torture and hence agony; they let him spill his rancor. He ordered the jailers to put our feet up to beat us. The torture continued for almost half a day until dawn.
The ruling comes after numerous campaigns against Nasser, the latest being the hashtag “#torturePrince,” which saw contributions from around the world. Journalist Pierre Motin tweeted:
— Pierre Motin (@PierreMotin) August 28, 2014
Activists in Bahrain hope the ruling will extend to other countries to hold Nasser accountable for his crimes. Nasser, an avid horseman, often travels to Europe to take part in endurance races. Recently, Freedom Now, a French non-governmental organization, tweeted about his participation in the World Equestrian Games in France:
— Freedom Now (@freedomnoworg) August 28, 2014
The ruling will for surely create diplomatic discomfort for Bahrain. The Bahraini government, for its part, has condemned the ruling:
This has been an ill-targeted, politically motivated and opportunistic attempt to misuse the British legal system. The government of Bahrain again categorically denies the allegations against Sheikh Nasser. The government reiterates its firm condemnation of torture and recognises its responsibility to investigate any reasonable allegation. The government remains committed to implementing the wider reforms as recommended by the Independent Commission of Inquiry and welcomes constructive engagement with responsible campaigners in pursuit of that aim.