Image: colin frei / ch media
His detention in prison would be against human rights – but that’s what he wants
Ten years ago, Peter Hans Kneubühl resisted the eviction of his house in Biel and hid from a thousand police officers. The case will soon come to court and to the cinema. The drama shows the limits of the judicial system.
Peter Hans Kneubühl, 76, is a polite gentleman. From the prison, he replies to this newspaper in a letter that he is ready to receive visitors. He writes: “Thank you for your interest in my adventures.”
Four days later, the 1.95 meter tall man opens the door of cell 006 of the Thun regional prison and leads into his twelve square meter small home. He has spent half of his ten years in prison here. There are papers everywhere, neatly stacked and labeled. He wrote down his story on thousands of pages with his ballpoint pen, which he carried in the breast pocket of his plaid shirt, and complained to all kinds of officials. Most of the time the answer was: “Not responsible”.
The screen over the bed is black, the connection is missing. Kneubühl says: «Television makes you passive. But I want to stay active. » He reads newspapers and writes. With his ballpoint pen he fights against the system.
Chase with helicopter and tank
On September 8, 2010, he led the fight against gun violence. On this day, the special unit Gentian of the Bernese cantonal police should have vacated his parents’ home on Mon-Désir-Weg in Biel, which was forcibly auctioned off after an inheritance dispute. But the then 67-year-old did not leave his house voluntarily. When the police pulled up, he barricaded the doors and windows and shot the officers. The police surrounded the house, evacuated the quarters and closed the streets. After an eleven-hour siege, Kneubühl suddenly stormed out of the house after midnight, shot a policeman and disappeared into the dark. He fled through the gardens of the abandoned neighboring houses. The police lost sight of him because they were unprepared for the situation.
Kneubühl hid in unknown places for nine days until he was sighted and arrested in the Taubenloch Gorge. During the search, the following were deployed: 1057 police officers with 150 night vision goggles and 40 submachine guns, a Super Puma helicopter and a Piranha armored personnel carrier.
Kneubühl is fighting for his four walls – then and now
In 2013 Kneubühl was declared guilty by the Biel and Bern judiciary. Because he was attested to being a persecutor, he did not have to answer for the police shots. In 2014 the verdict was confirmed by the federal court. The senior was sentenced to inpatient therapy. In his case, this meant psychotherapy in prison. But he still refuses to talk to psychiatrists to this day. He is convinced that it is not he who is ill, but the judicial system.
His fight against the police was only successful for nine days. However, his struggle against the prison system has been successful for nine years. On three occasions, on a hunger strike, he fought against being placed in a psychiatric ward or in a normal prison. Instead, he wants to stay in the Thun regional prison. What is unusual is that this is a detention center.
Kneubühl voluntarily submits to the toughest prison regime. In prison, prisoners have the least social contacts. As a rule, you are trapped for 23 hours a day. Kneubühl doesn’t mind that, on the contrary. He says: «A lot of young people can’t stand being alone. But for me it is liberating. » Kneubühl finds a piece of freedom – and a home – in the place with the greatest possible lack of freedom. He feels safer in his cell than he used to be in his house because he is no longer being followed here.
He would have to work in the prison system and would be integrated into a finely balanced system of small punishments and rewards. So you want to “reprogram him into a good citizen,” he says. He can avoid that in Thun.
The cheapest prisoner
Added to this is the symbolic meaning that is important to him: the type of accommodation suggests that an investigation is ongoing. In his view, his case was never properly cleared up. The persecution, which the court psychiatrist classifies as delusion, is real to him: he sees himself as the victim of a corrupt judicial system that his sister exploits. The inheritance dispute with her led to his house being vacated. Perseverance in the detention center is his silent protest for an investigation into his past.
Kneubühl’s accommodation is actually against human rights. It would be a scandal if he were not here voluntarily. For a Kneubühl case, the paragraphs simply do not offer a suitable solution. The Bern judiciary has created a special setting for him, from which both sides benefit. At a cost of CHF 220 per day, his current detention is cheaper than in a specialized facility.
The regional prison in Thun has 98 places. Eighty percent of the inmates are released after 24 hours. It is a coming and going. The same is always in cell 006.
“I’m not dangerous”
If custody came into force, it would be even more difficult to justify Kneubühl’s detention in the detention center. The situation is paradoxical: he would have to be relocated so that he had more comfortable prison conditions. Coziness is subjective. What normal people find pleasant makes Kneubühl sick. He is again faced with a situation similar to that of ten years ago: he will use his hands and feet to resist leaving his four walls. In an interview he announces: “I’m not going to the court hearing in Biel.”
Kneubühl is not just the “amok pensioner” he became famous for after the escalation in Biel. When someone threatens their freedom, they defend themselves by all means, which they have never regretted: “I was only defending myself and not attacking anyone. I am not dangerous. » But if you leave him alone, Kneubühl is a friendly and witty senior. He praises the work of the prison director and thanks him for the cell he offers him, and he still has to laugh in the interview when he tells how he tricked a thousand police officers.
“Kneubühl is a tragic figure”
Kneubühl’s adventure is ready for film. The Biel director Laurent Wyss made a feature film out of it, which is currently in post-production. Actually, the film should have been released this year. The theatrical release was postponed to 2021 because the film crew ran out of money. The originally planned budget of CHF 300,000 is not sufficient. Another round of financing is currently underway. Wyss has visited Kneubühl several times in prison and says: «He is a tragic figure because nobody can help him. He is trapped in his own world. »
Kneubühl grew up in a Biel family of workers and is proud to be the first Kneubühl to have completed a higher education. He was an electrical engineer, most recently worked as a math and physics teacher and became a loner. Previously, however, he had several relationships that lasted two to three years. Back in the 68s, a long-term relationship was not the goal anyway.
Kneubühl appreciates his cell 006 because he can observe the world from here. The world consists of a busy street and a large construction site. When he looks through the bars, he sees changes: «The fashions change. The women are wearing longer hair again. »