Bahraini Prince Could be Investigated for Torture by UK Police

A member of the Bahraini royal family with close ties to the United Kingdom may soon be under investigation by British police for his alleged role in torturing dissidents during 2011 pro-democracy demonstrations that took place in the Persian Gulf kingdom.

Lawyers for a Bahraini citizen living in the UK, identified only as FF, have asked London’s Metropolitan Police Service to investigate whether Bahraini Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa tortured several prisoners in Manama who participated in pro-democracy rallies on the island-nation in 2011. The prince, who attended the UK’s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and considers Britain a “home-from-home,” could be charged with violating of section 134 of the Britain’s Criminal Justice Act 1988, which states:

“A public official or person acting in an official capacity, whatever his nationality, commits the offence of torture if in the United Kingdom or elsewhere he intentionally inflicts severe pain or suffering on another in the performance or purported performance of his official duties.”

The move comes after judges in London on Oct. 7 reversed a 2012 decision by Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) not to prosecute Prince Nasser. The CPS had claimed in 2012 that the prince’s status as royalty and commander of the Royal Guard of Bahrain afforded him immunity from prosecution under the UK’s, State Immunity Act.

However, judges yesterday ruled that such immunity could not apply if an investigation produces evidence that the prince committed torture.

“In line with recent case law on this issue, we can no longer maintain our position that the Prince could have immunity,” The Guardian quotes Deborah Walsh, deputy head of special crime and counter terrorism at the CPS, as saying. “We have always maintained that the issues raised by this judicial review are academic as before the (UK’s Department of Public Prosecution) can consent to any application for a private arrest warrant, there needs to be an investigation by police. The likelihood of immunity is not considered a bar to prosecution and is a matter that should be considered on a case’s individual facts and merits, after some investigation.”

Prince Nasser’s example is the latest in a string of cases where government officials from the Middle East accused of torture face potential investigations in European nations for their actions at home. “This should put the frighteners on anyone out there who is responsible for torture or crimes against humanity,” said Andreas Schuller of the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

As expected, representatives of the Bahraini government strongly denied his involvement in any cases of torture. The island nation, which serves as the United States Navy’s Middle East hub and is considered a “major non-NATO ally” of the US, has been wracked by bloody pro-democracy demonstrations since 2011. Bahraini authorities received assistance from the security forces from nearby Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in a violent crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators that year. It remains to be seen if this trend will gain a successful foothold in the United States, whose government has close relationships with many foreign regimes, such as the government of Bahrain, associated with alleged human rights abuses. 

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John Reed

Managing Editor of Just Security (2014-18). Follow him on Twitter (@ReedJustSec).