Bahrain’s Formula 1: A Race to Gain Public Support Worldwide

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SHAFAQNA –  Amnesty International warned on Wednesday (April 15, 2015) of the human rights abuses that continue unabated in Bahrain, according to a 79-page report it published a couple of days before the scheduled Formula One Grand Prix tournament that will kick off on Friday.

The report concluded that Bahrain is orchestrating a “chilling” crackdown on dissent, citing testimonies of former detainees who described the types of torture they were subjected to in prison.

“As the world’s eyes fall on Bahrain during the Grand Prix this weekend, few will realize that the international image the authorities have attempted to project of the country as a progressive reformist state committed to human rights masks a far more sinister truth,” said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

This isn’t the first time Amnesty’s critical statements coincide with the international event. Last year, the human rights organization stated that the Bahraini authorities “should not be using the Grand Prix as an excuse to trigger yet another clampdown on those trying to denounce human rights abuses in the country.”

Since the cancelation of the Bahrain Grand Prix (March 2011), when the popular uprisings against the regime were at their peak, the Bahrain International Circuit became the scene of a competitive race between local and international human rights organizations and Bahraini authorities to win the public’s support worldwide.

According to an article published by The Guardian, dissidents and exiled campaigners have warned that hosting the race increases instances of human rights abuses because authorities clamp down further on freedom of speech and assembly.

These warnings don’t lack credibility, for a number of Bahraini groups have stated that the authorities launched a campaign of arrests during the past two days, detaining at least 22 people, including 9 children.

Bahrain’s main opposition group, Al-Wefaq, saw that the campaign followed a statement by the Minister of Information Affairs Isa Al-Hammadi, who said: “the Ministry of Interior will confront any call or protest that aims at harming this international event and the Kingdom’s interests, whether before, during, or after the Formula 1 race.”

Although it highlights the economic benefits of the Grand Prix, the Bahraini government always declares that its hosting of this international event is a confirmation of “the validity of its procedures and the respect it enjoys on the international level.”

Dissents and human rights defenders voiced their opposition to the fact that the organizers of the Formula 1 race are granting the Bahraini authorities an opportunity to claim it enjoys international respect; which the government will use to cover up rampant human rights abuses.

Activists staged a rally on Wednesday (April 15, 2015) outside the Formula One office in Knightsbridge, central London in protest against the Grand Prix tournament taking place in Bahrain; since it’s breaching its international commitments in regards to reform.

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Jawad Fairooz, a former Bahraini MP and president of Bahrain SALAM for Human Rights (who moved to London after his citizenship was revoked), said: “Our message to the organizers of the race is that the regime will exploit this event to project Bahrain as a stable country that is not witnessing human rights abuses (…) We urged them to not give the dictatorship an opportunity to say that every year.”

This comes as protesters in Juffair (near the US base in Bahrain) set ablaze a replica of the Formula 1 racecars, while opposition groups called for protests under the slogan “No to Formula 1 race of Blood”.

Islamic Action Society @AmalSociety
#hope_of_people burning a replica of Formula One car in #Juffair in protest against the race taking place in #Bahrain
6:00 PM – 14 Apr 2015

Bahrain is expected to witness in the next three days a wave of massive protests against the Grand Prix tournament, amid concerns of the government’s use of deadly violence against protesters once again.

In 2012, activist Salah Abbas was hit by a shotgun pellet during protests in a Bahraini village west of the capital Manama during the Grand Prix test-drives. Security forces left him to bleed to death on a rock in a farm nearby the scene of the incident.

In a development of events, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain’s (ADHRB) succeeded in making the Formula One World Championship Limited and Formula One Management Limited commit to a promise to develop and implement a due diligence policy, in which Formula One analyzes and takes steps to mitigate any human rights impact that its activities may have on a host country, including on the human rights situation in Bahrain.

This policy was posted on the Formula 1 website a week prior to the tournament in Bahrain. Based on Formula One’s commitments, it should identify and assess any actual or potential adverse human rights impacts with which it may be involved through its own activities in the host country.

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