Tribute to a protester killed in demonstrations in Bahrain in 2011
2 min 19Approximate reading time

Human rights activists are hailing news that Swiss authorities have opened a case against Bahrain’s Attorney General Ali Bin Fadhul Al-Buainain, after torture allegations were filed against him. The complaint was filed in September by a Bahrain-born British national supported by Swiss NGO TRIAL and other groups. It came on the eve of a visit to Switzerland by Al-Buainain,

“This is a very significant case,” says TRIAL legal adviser Benedict De Moerloose. “Bahrain's practice of torturing human rights activists and political opponents placed under investigation from the Attorney General's office has been systematic. However, high ranking individuals have not been prosecuted yet. The opening of an investigation against Bahrain's Attorney General is a first step in the fight against impunity for Bahrain.” 

TRIAL, in collaboration with the European Center for Constitutional and Human and Rights (ECCHR), British NGO Redress and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), announced on September 15 it had filed a complaint with Swiss prosecutors against Al-Buainain on behalf of alleged torture victim Jaafar Al-Hasabi. This came as Al-Buainain was due to attend a conference in Berne of the International Association of Prosecutors. Al-Buainain attended the conference, and was elected one of the association’s vice-presidents. He was not arrested and was allowed to leave the country.

“We welcome the opening of the investigation but regret that the Berne prosecuting authorities only went half way and did not secure the suspect’s presence in Switzerland, as the Convention against Torture obliges them to do,” De Moerloose told JusticeInfo.Net.

The human rights organizations bringing this case say Switzerland is obliged to prosecute under the principle of universal jurisdiction. TRIAL told JusticeInfo.Net in a recent interview that Swiss law is among the most advanced with regard to this principle, but that there is a lack of resources and political will to prosecute.

Swiss authorities opened a case on September 11. The Zurich-based Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) newspaper quoted Christof Scheurer, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office of Berne canton, as saying it is not yet a question of examining the evidence, but of establishing if the Swiss authorities have judicial competence in this case.  

De Moerloose says next steps “will all depend on the prosecutor's will to investigate the case properly”.

Electric shocks and beatings on the soles of the feet

Electric shocks, beatings on the soles of the feet and stress positions during incommunicado detention are some of the things to which Jaafar Al-Hasabi, a critic of the Bahrain authorities, says he was subjected after arrest in the country in 2010. “The torture of Mr Al-Hasabi was also well-documented by the UN and international NGOs, such as HRW, who reported on his case from the beginning on,” say the NGOs leading his case in Switzerland.

They say Bahraini Attorney General Al-Buainain “knew about allegations of systematic torture in detention centers (…) before the detention of Mr Al-Hasabi” and that “aside from Mr Al-Buainain's knowledge of the risk of torture Mr Al-Hasabi was exposed to, a number of elements confirm his direct involvement in Mr Al-Hasabi's case”.

“Although systematic torture in political cases was brought to a halt in the late 1990s, it seems to have resumed since 2007,” say the NGOs. “A Human Rights Watch report had been published a few months before Mr Al-Hasabi's arrest and concluded to the re-emergence of such practice by the NSA (National Security Agency).”

Oil-rich island state Bahrain, a constitutional monarchy in the Gulf ruled by the Khalifa family since 1783, had been opening up somewhat in the run-up to the Arab Spring. But when protesters inspired by popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt took to the streets of the capital in February 2011, a crackdown ensued.