24 September 2020 – Today, Bahraini photojournalist Moosa Mohammed was convicted of trespass on a diplomatic premises by Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot at Westminster Magistrate’s Court and sentenced to a 36 month conditional discharge and a fine, after he scaled the roof of the Bahrain’s London Embassy last July and unfurled a banner calling on Boris Johnson to intervene and prevent the execution of two torture victims in Bahrain.
The dramatic protest, in which video evidence viewed by the court appeared to show embassy staff assaulting Moosa, ended when Metropolitan Police made the unprecedented decision to force entry to the Embassy. Metropolitan police officer Sergeant Chris Browne gave evidence that he and other officers had been extremely concerned for Moosa’s safety and this had informed their decision to break into the Embassy.
When delivering her verdict, the Chief Magistrate found Moosa’s belief that he was acting to prevent death or injury to be reasonable, but rejected Moosa’s defence of necessity, stating that his actions were neither reasonable nor proportionate. The Chief Magistrate added that climbing on a roof is not reasonable to stop a crime from being committed in another country and that it is “an important point of principle” to protect embassies and diplomatic premises regardless of the human rights record of the country.
Moosa’s lawyer, Kirsty Brimelow, QC of Doughty Street Chambers, argued that he understood his protest to be the only means available to prevent the execution of Ali Al Arab, 25, and Ahmed Al Malali, 24, and that he was acting to prevent a greater crime. She submitted that he had acted in a reasonable and proportionate manner to prevent the unlawful killing of two men. The two Bahraini torture victims were killed by firing squad hours after Moosa’s protest, in what were condemned as “arbitrary killings” by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, whose expert testimony on the matter was relied upon by the defence and considered by the court.
The Chief Magistrate found that the prosecution (Nathan Rasiah) had proved its case and “the Defendant deliberately stepped from lawful protest to unlawful trespass on a diplomatic mission.” While Moosa’s motivation to prevent the execution of Ali Al Arab and Ahmed Al Malali was not disputed, his defence was rejected.
Moosa will appeal today’s verdict.
The defendant, Moosa Mohammed, commented: “My action was a last-ditch attempt to stop the murder of two torture victims by a tyrannical regime. For my efforts, I was brazenly attacked by Bahrain embassy staff and my life was saved only by the timely intervention of the Met Police, to whom I offer my sincere thanks. I am disappointed that the Judge did not recognise the necessity of my action and will be appealing my conviction.”
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, who was present in the courtroom, commented: “Although the verdict is disappointing, the violent nature of the Bahraini regime was laid bare throughout this trial. Bahrain embassy staff repeatedly failed to cooperate with police, obstructing entry to the Embassy so they could torture Moosa on the roof. However, a greater injustice remains unresolved; while Moosa put himself at risk to save others, the embassy staffers who threatened his life walk free.”
Kirsty Brimelow QC of Doughty Street Chambers, commented: “Whilst the UK has a long standing opposition to the death penalty the actions of Mr. Mohammed were not a protest against capital punishment. He tried to stop Bahrain carrying out the extra-judicial killing of two men by taking the only action he considered was available to him. Whilst his defence of necessity was rejected by the court, the reasonableness of his beliefs could not be disputed. The two men were killed by firing squad hours after Mr. Mohammed’s arrest and their execution was condemned by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.”
Ella Jefferson of Bindmans, commented: “Before Moosa attended the Bahrain Embassy last Summer, he and others made considerable attempts to try to stop the executions of Ali Al Arab and Ahmed Al Malali. Human Rights organisations had condemned the planned executions as extrajudicial killings, contrary to international law. With time running out and as a recognised victim of torture himself, Moosa felt compelled to act. The action he took was a last resort, having exhausted all other avenues available to him. He appealed directly to Boris Johnson to intervene by communicating with King Hamad to stop the killings. He was acting out of necessity, to prevent inevitable death. He placed himself at risk, as a political dissident, in attending the Embassy and was assaulted by staff. Photographic and video evidence of his assault was presented to the Court at his Trial. No one has been prosecuted for assaulting Moosa. It is extremely disappointing that he has been convicted today.”
Embassy Protest and criminal complaint
Moosa’s protest took place on 26 July 2019, after last minute appeals by the United Nations and multiple international NGOs, including Amnesty International, failed to compel Bahrain to stay the executions. After accessing the roof of Bahrain’s Embassy in Belgrave Square, Moosa unfurled a banner calling on Boris Johnson to intervene to prevent the executions.
Moosa gave evidence that he was attacked on the ledge of the roof by embassy staff and then pulled from the ledge. Moosa was then heard screaming and crying for help from the street below. After embassy staff ignored repeated orders both to return inside and to open the door to the Embassy, police made the decision to storm the building.
In November 2019, Moosa filed a criminal complaint against embassy staff alleging attempted murder; that they intended to throw him from the roof or to make him so insecure as to fall.
Video evidence published by Channel 4 appeared to show an embassy staff member beating him with a piece of wood while attempting to push him from the roof. Moosa testified under oath that embassy staffers also attempted to suffocate him with a t-shirt soaked in water, telling him that his would be “the third” execution to take place that day.
Moosa told journalists that he feared becoming “a second Jamal Khashoggi, in London,” referring to the Saudi journalist murdered in his country’s embassy in Istanbul in 2018. Moosa has long faced harassment by the Bahraini regime. At 14, he was arrested and tortured by Bahraini security services and in 2014 was targeted by a Bahraini spyware operation while living in the UK.
There are currently at least 26 individuals on death row in Bahrain, of whom at least 12 are political prisoners at risk of imminent execution. In July, Bahrain’s highest court rejected the final appeal of Mohammed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa, despite considerable evidence that they were convicted on the basis of confessions obtained under torture.