For­mer Qatari PM granted im­mu­nity in UK tor­ture case

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL - By Rori Don­aghy

Sheikh Ha­mad bin Jas­sim bin Jaber al-Thani was judged to en­joy both state and diplo­matic im­mu­nity pro­tect­ing him from pros­e­cu­tion in the UK. The for­mer prime min­is­ter of Qatar will not face trial for the al­leged tor­ture of a Bri­tish ci­ti­zen af­ter the Lon­don High Court on Mon­day awarded him im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion. Mr Jus­tice Blake ruled that the Sheikh en­joys both state and diplo­matic im­mu­nity, mean­ing UK courts have no ju­ris­dic­tion to try him over ac­cu­sa­tions he falsely im­pris­oned and tor­tured a Bri­tish ci­ti­zen.

Thani, of­ten re­ferred to as “HBJ”, was ac­cused of falsely im­pris­on­ing Bri­tish-Qatari dual na­tional Fawaz al-At­tiya in con­di­tions amount­ing to tor­ture, in­clud­ing be­ing kept in soli­tary con­fine­ment and be­ing sub­jected to sleep de­pri­va­tion.

At­tiya, who is a for­mer spokesman for Qatar, has ar­gued that HBJ had him im­pris­oned for 15 months in a Qatar jail from Oc­to­ber 2009 un­til Jan­uary 2010 as part of a long-run­ning feud over the own­er­ship of land on the out­skirts of Doha.

At­tiya has claimed that HBJ seized the land – 20,000sq m in the Rayyan area – af­ter he re­fused to sell it to the Qatari bil­lion­aire in 1997. At­tiya said on Mon­day that he will ap­peal against the de­ci­sion.

“I am dis­ap­pointed that the Court was not able to hear my claim against HBJ on the ba­sis that he has claimed diplo­matic and state im­mu­nity,” At­tiya said in a state­ment sent to Middle East Eye.

“I have in­structed my lawyers to lodge grounds of ap­peal against this de­ci­sion and I trust that my case will be heard. I am con­fi­dent that jus­tice will pre­vail and HBJ will an­swer for what he has done; diplo­matic im­mu­nity is in­tended to fa­cil­i­tate re­la­tions be­tween states, not to ar­bi­trar­ily lift the rich and pow­er­ful above the law.”

At­tiya had ar­gued that HBJ should not re­ceive diplo­matic im­mu­nity, de­spite be­ing listed as a diplo­mat at the Qatari Em­bassy in Lon­don.

HBJ stood down as Qatar’s PM and for­eign min­is­ter in June 2013. Since Novem­ber 2014, he has been on the UK for­eign of­fice’s diplo­matic list as a ju­nior diplo­mat with the ti­tle “min­is­ter-coun­sel­lor”.

At­tiya claims that HBJ has not ful­filled the role of a diplo­mat, cit­ing state­ments by the for­mer Qatari prime min­is­ter that he now acts in a “pri­vate ca­pac­ity”.

Mr Jus­tice Blake ruled in favour of HBJ but said that he “would not be sat­is­fied on the ev­i­dence be­fore me” that the de­fen­dant had dis­charged his diplo­matic du­ties.

How­ever, the judge said it was for the For­eign Of­fice, not the court, to de­cide who was and who wasn’t a diplo­mat.

At­tiya’s le­gal team re­sponded to the rul­ing on Mon­day by say­ing that there was “mud­dled think­ing” in the High Court over which au­thor­ity de­ter­mines whether an in­di­vid­ual should re­ceive diplo­matic im­mu­nity.

It pointed to a rul­ing from 8 Fe­bru­ary in the same court that de­nied a Saudi busi­ness­man diplo­matic im­mu­nity in a dis­pute with his ex-wife – for­mer model Christina Estrada – over fi­nances.

Walid Juf­fali claimed to have im­mu­nity due to his sta­tus as per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Or­gan­i­sa­tion, based in Lon­don, on be­half of Caribbean is­land St Lu­cia.

But Mr Jus­tice Hay­den ruled that Juf­fali “had not un­der­taken any du­ties” re­lat­ing to the role of a diplo­mat, and he struck down the Saudi’s sta­tus. On 9 Fe­bru­ary a For­eign Of­fice spokesper­son, com­ment­ing on the Juf­fali case, said it was “for the court to rule on diplo­matic im­mu­nity”.

In HBJ’s case Mr Jus­tice Blake ruled that the For­eign Of­fice must be the au­thor­ity to rule in this in­stance.

At­tiya’s le­gal team said the courts and FO were “play­ing pass the par­cel” on the is­sue.

“It is very dis­ap­point­ing that the court has not al­lowed my client’s case to be heard,” so­lic­i­tor Imran Khan said in a state­ment to Middle East Eye. “I have been in­structed to ap­peal the de­ci­sion; par­tic­u­larly as the same court in an­other case (the Juf­fali case) came to the op­po­site con­clu­sion only one week ago.

“The Court of Ap­peal should now deal with this is­sue and set­tle, once and for all, the cir­cum­stances in which an in­di­vid­ual is able to claim diplo­matic im­mu­nity.”

A spokesman for HBJ said on Mon­day that he was “ob­vi­ously very pleased with the judg­ment”.

“He is par­tic­u­larly pleased that, hav­ing con­sid­ered all the avail­able ev­i­dence and hav­ing heard ar­gu­ment over the course of two days, the judge has re­jected Mr al-At­tiya’s case as to state im­mu­nity.

“That case rested on a ver­sion of events that was in­tended to per­suade the court that Sheikh Ha­mad had pur­sued some form of op­pres­sive per­sonal vendetta against Mr al-At­tiya.

“The judge has not ac­cepted that ver­sion and has in­stead found that the al­leged events in ques­tion re­lated to ac­tions car­ried out by the state of Qatar.”

In his judg­ment Mr Jus­tice Blake said that HBJ en­joyed state im­mu­nity be­cause, de­spite the al­leged per­sonal mo­ti­va­tion, the bil­lion­aire was a serv­ing prime min­is­ter and could not be sep­a­rated from his pub­lic of­fice.

“Sheikh Ha­mad has all along ar­gued that this was the case and that Mr al-At­tiya’s al­le­ga­tions were un­sub­stan­ti­ated and he con­sid­ers that the judge’s rul­ing in re­la­tion to state im­mu­nity wholly vin­di­cates his po­si­tion,” HBJ’s spokesper­son added.

Sheikh Ha­mad bin Jas­sim al-Thani speaks at the first

“Friends of Syria” con­fer­ence in Tu­nis (AFP)

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