Bahraini prince loses immunity — could Israeli leaders be next?

Bahraini prince loses immunity — could Israeli leaders be next?

Britain’s decision to change legal status of royal accused of torture may mean politicians will no longer be protected from trial abroad

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Bahraini Prince Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa. (screen capture, YouTube)
Bahraini Prince Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa. (screen capture, YouTube)

A decision by the United Kingdom to try a Bahraini prince despite his immunity could mean officials — including in Israel and Egypt — can now be brought to court in Britain for alleged crimes in their home countries regardless of their positions.

The High Court of Britain ruled on Tuesday that the prince, Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, was not immune from prosecution despite his royal status, leading some to speculate that similar rulings against leaders and senior officials accused of crimes against humanity could follow.

The case against the Bahraini royal, who also heads his country’s Royal Guard, was filed by a Bahraini citizen, identified only as FF, who had sought asylum in the UK after being imprisoned in Bahrain during the Arab Spring. The citizen filed the case while al-Khalifa was visiting London for the 2012 Olympic Games, claiming the prince had participated in the torture of detainees during the Arab Spring-inspired uprising of 2011. FF said he himself was badly beaten and imprisoned for participating in the 2011 protests.

At first, FF was told by the British authorities that the prince could not be tried, as he enjoyed diplomatic immunity as a royal under Section 20 of the State Immunity Act 1978. The prince was subsequently allowed to return to Bahrain.

However, earlier this week, the High Court in London removed his immunity after the prosecution argued that the prince could be tried under Britain’s extra-territorial criminal jurisdiction over acts of torture.

“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,” FF said in a statement after the ruling was issued.

“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.”

On Wednesday, the Egyptian Rassd news agency cited a British legal source as saying many UK lobbyists and lawyers hold that immunity must not apply in cases dealing with possible crimes against humanity. The source said Tuesday’s ruling was an achievement, as it proved victims of torture and other crimes could seek — and get — justice in UK courts.

The expert said the ruling may set a precedent for similar cases and “strengthen the chances” of torture victims to sue, in the UK or elsewhere, those responsible for their suffering.

“We no longer have the slightest doubt that those responsible for crimes against humanity in Egypt, Israel, UAE and other countries, will be brought to justice,” the source was quoted as saying, adding that the leaders of this countries would no longer be protected by the “disgraceful” shield of immunity.

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