Formula One Race Heightens Tensions and Ignores Human Rights Abuses in Bahrain

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation calls for a boycott of the Bahrain Grand Prix on 21 April 2012 and the release of all political prisoners in Bahrain.

The decision for the race to go ahead dangerously ignores the ongoing human rights violations and increases the tension in a country that is sliding towards another eruption of violence. The Bahrain Grand Prix was cancelled last year in the midst of a brutal government crackdown on protests that formed part of the Arab Spring, but the Formula One administrating body, the Fédération Internationale de I'Automobile, has announced that it is "safe" for the race to go ahead this week. This announcement was made even as clashes between protesters and security forces continue to occur daily. Villages that are home to Bahrain's majority Shi'ite population have been attacked by supporters of the regime, and an explosion on 9 April 2012 in al-Akar, a village in the east of Bahrain, left several people injured and led to threats of retaliation.

At stake for the government is not only the estimated 100 000 visitors and US$500 million generated by the last Grand Prix in Bahrain, but also its prestige. Bahrain's ruling monarchy are keen to stage a successful race as part of their efforts to suggest to the world that they are making progress on reforms and reconciliation with the Shi'ite community after the protests last year.

"Attempts by the regime to make the competition a symbol of unity are merely papering over the cracks of a deeply divided and risky situation," says Adele Poskitt, Policy Officer at CIVICUS. "There should be a political process for reconciliation, not an F1 event. The decision for the race to go ahead has been dictated by rich, corporate bodies, and with the Bahrain royal family owning 40 percent of the McLaren racing team, there is even more reason to be cynical of the decision."

The tension created by the Grand Prix comes at a time of growing support amongst anti-regime protesters for well-known human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike since 8 February 2012. Al-Khawaja was sentenced to life imprisonment by the National Safety Court, a military court, on terrorism-related charges. Reports suggest that Al-Khawaja is on the verge of death as he refuses to eat in protest at the government's unjust detention of him and other peaceful activists who have dared to challenge the ruling Al Khalifa familys monopoly of political and economic power. CIVICUS has serious concerns about Al-Khawajas imprisonment being linked to his human rights activities, and about the lack of due process and fair trial guarantees.

The concerns are shared by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Margaret Sekaggya, who said recently, "I am seriously concerned that Mr Al-Khawaja's trial and sentence are linked to his legitimate work to promote human rights in Bahrain. This case is sadly emblematic of the overall treatment of human rights defenders in Bahrain."

The anti-regime uprising in Bahrain started in February 2011, following the wave of protests that swept across Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and much of the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. The dramatic destruction of the Pearl Monument protest site by the Bahrain regime became a physical and psychological symbol of the conflict between the state and its people. It is reported that in the 16-month period since the uprisings started more than 40 people have died, and over 1 600 people arrested. In April 2011 blogger Zakariya Rashia Hassan Al-Ashiri died in mysterious circumstances whilst in detention shortly after his arrest. In June 2011 military courts handed out draconian sentences, ranging from two years to life in prison, to 21 activists, including health professionals who treated injured protesters.

The regime continues to carry out systematic violations of human rights even after a government sponsored initiative, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, is said to have investigated these abuses. The Commissions report, known as the Bassiouni Report, was published in November 2011 and found cases of abuse and torture by regime forces. The report makes recommendations for political solutions that now need follow-up.

CIVICUS believes that the current crisis can only be resolved through genuine dialogue and negotiations for political reform while senior officials need to be held accountable for excessive use of force and torture on those exercising their right of legitimate dissent. In the absence of this, CIVICUS calls for a boycott of the Bahrain Grand Prix and the release of all political prisoners, including Al-Khawaja. The international community must not remain silent on clear violations of human rights and the unjust detention of Al-Khawaja and others in Bahrain.

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CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society across the world

For more information contact:

Adele Poskitt
Policy and Advocacy Officer
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Andrew Firmin
Communications Manager
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Tel: +27 11 833 5959

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Date published: 
Thursday, 19 April, 2012
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

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