Bahraini dictatorship and Formula One racing

Bahraini pro-democracy demonstrators. A Bahraini protester raises a sign against the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix during a protest in Saar, Bahrain, Friday, April 4, 2014. Tens of thousands of Bahraini anti-government protesters carrying signs and images of political prisoners waved national flags and signs against the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, which is being held Sunday in the Gulf island kingdom. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

From Associated Press:

Thousands rally in Bahrain ahead of auto race

April 4, 2014 2:59 PM EDT

MANAMA, Bahrain — Thousands have marched in the streets of Bahrain to voice their opposition to this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix auto race.

Witnesses say protesters Friday carried banners and chanted slogans against the government and the Formula One race, the tiny island kingdom’s biggest international event of the year. Practice runs for Sunday’s race went ahead amid tight security.

Groups of anti-government activists clashed with police following the largely peaceful rally outside the capital, Manama, hurling gasoline bombs and blocking roadways with tires.

Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. The country has witnessed more than three years of unrest following a Shiite-led uprising calling for reforms and greater political freedoms from the Sunni monarchy.

Journalism in Bahrain

From the Bahrain Center for Human Rights:

4 April, 2014

Joint Statement – Bahrain: Bahrain Racing in Circles

Press freedom campaign launch timed to Formula One race in Bahrain

New York and Paris, April 3[tk], 2014—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have launched a joint social media campaign calling on the Bahraini government to allow journalists to work freely during the Formula One Grand Prix race in Bahrain on April 6, 2014. Using the social media tool Thunderclap, the “Bahrain Racing in Circles” campaign participants will call for press freedom in Bahrain at the exact start of the Formula One race. As of April 2, the campaign had gained a potential audience of 2.6 million people, twice the population of Bahrain.

“It’s clear that it’s not only F1 cars that are racing circles in Bahrain, as we see the same cycle of protests, repression, and censorship every year,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Every year, the Bahraini government hopes the roar of Formula One cars will drown out criticism of the regime’s human rights violations,” said Soazig Dollet, head of RSF’s Middle East and North Africa desk. “This year, we’re calling on everyone to join our F1 campaign to make sure that does not happen.”

CPJ and RSF have documented a consistent attempt by the Bahraini government to censor the press since the launch of a mass protest movement on February 14, 2011. Most recently, on March 26, freelance photographer Ahmed Humaidan was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment on charges of attacking a police station in 2012. Humaidan was at the station to document the incident as part of his coverage of unrest in the country.

To get more information and to join the campaign, please visit the campaign website here.

### CPJ is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.
Reporters Without Borders promotes and defends the freedom to be informed and to inform others throughout the world

Media contacts:

New York, USA:
Samantha Libby
Communications Associate
Committee to Protect Journalists
212-300-9032. Ext 124

Paris, France:
Soazig Dollet
Head of Middle East and North Africa Desk
Reporters Without Borders
Tel: 33 1 44 83 84 78

On the morning of the Grand Prix race which will take place today at 6pm in Sakhir; BCHR (Bahrain Center for Human Rights), BIRD (Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy) and BYSHR (Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights), note their concern for the growing violations against civilians in Bahrain: here.

Thousands Protest for Democracy in Bahrain: here.

Bahrain: Shooting Victim Sentenced to 15 Years; Attacker Enjoys Impunity: here.

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Bahrain, Formula One racing and human rights violations

This video is called Former CNN journalist Amber Lyon & Joe Rogan talk about Bahrain dictatorship.

From the Committee to Protect Journalists:

Bahrain racing in circles

By Jason Stern/CPJ Middle East and North Africa Research Associate

Thursday, the official Bahrain News Agency announced the “final 30-day countdown [to] the Formula One extravaganza” to take place the first week of April. Every year the race acts as a lightning rod for criticism of the Bahraini government, which seeks to use high-profile international events like the F1 to gloss over human rights violations in the country.

So perhaps it’s all too predictable that another journalist was arrested in Bahrain only a few hours before the BNA article went to press. Freelance photojournalist Sayed Baqer Al-Kamil was arrested at a checkpoint west of Manama sometime in the early morning hours, according to news reports and his colleagues. It is not clear why he was arrested, but Al-Kamil has meticulously documented the protest movement in Bahrain.

In another recent case, Bahraini security forces arrested photographer Sayed Ahmed Al-Mosawi and his brother in a house raid the morning of February 10, according to news reports.  Al-Mosawi was transferred to the Dry Dock prison after several days of interrogation about his work. The journalist, who has won international recognition for his photographs, told his family in a phone call from prison that he had been tortured through beatings and electrocution, according to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

Al-Kamil and Al-Mosawi join at least three other journalists behind bars in Bahrain, the second worst country in the world for journalists imprisoned per capita, according to CPJ research.

The blast came as Al Sinan was covering clashes between riot police and protesters from a funeral procession of a Bahraini inmate who died last month in custody. The government said the inmate, Jaffar Al-Durazi, died from complications of sickle cell anemia, but opposition groups said he was subjected to torture and medical negligence.

It is not clear who carried out the attack on the security forces, with at least two groups claiming responsibility on Facebook, according to Bahrain scholar Marc Owen Jones. Bahrain’s major opposition and human rights groups condemned the attack and urged Bahrainis to end the cycle of violence.

In a photograph of the attack captured by EPA photojournalist Mazen Mahdi, riot police grimace from tear gas as one of their comrades lay wounded in the street. A few days prior, on February 26, Mahdi accused the police of aiming deliberately at journalists after he had been shot in the leg by a teargas canister while covering protests in Daih. He was not seriously injured.

Mahdi and other journalists have faced consistent harassment from security forces attempting to limit coverage of opposition demonstrations, according to CPJ research. The independent Bahrain Press Association reported that Associated Press photographer Hassan Jamali has been unable to cover protests since his press credentials were confiscated by security forces on February 12.

None of this is new for Bahrain. In the past three years, CPJ has documented the arrest, torture, assault and sadly even death of journalists. …

Yet the pace of violations seem to be accelerating, especially as the Bahrain government collects more local freelance journalists in its prisons and frustration on the street grows stronger. As Gulf expert Christopher Davidson recently tweeted, “Bahrain looking more tense now than for a long time.” With a political solution no closer, despite repeated rounds of political dialogue since 2011, I fear those tensions will lead to even greater restrictions on the press.

It appears not only F1 cars are racing in circles in Bahrain.

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No Formula 1 in dictatorial Bahrain, activists say

This video is called Bahrain capital of torture.

From ANSA news agency in Italy:

Suspend Bahrain Formula 1 say human rights NGOs

NGOs call for urgent visit by UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

05 March, 16:14

ROME, MARCH 5 – Human rights NGOs on January 14 urged the International Automobile Federation (FIA) to suspend the 2014 Formula One Grand Prix scheduled from April 4-6 in Bahrain, where a Sunni minority rules a Shiite majority with an iron fist.

The decision to hold the Formula One Grand Prix in the monarchy has provided the Bahraini government with ”the pretext to increase its systematic crackdown on protesters, journalists and human rights defenders.

As such, FIA bears “a unique ethical and moral responsibility to safeguard the integrity and reputation of motor sport worldwide by cancelling the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix until such abuses cease to exist”, human rights activists said.

Activists pointed to the direct correlation between intensified crackdowns on civilians and protesters during previous Formula One events in the country, with restrictive measures such as enclosing entire villages in barbed wire, setting up an excessive amount of police checkpoints, firing tear gas into residential areas, and jailing protesters.

In 2012, security forces killed protester Salah Abbas Habib on the first day of the Bahrain Grand Prix. There are currently more than 3,000 political prisoners behind bars in Bahrain, and there is no indication that such measures will not be used again during the 2014 Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, according to the NGOs.

The letter to FIA President Jean Todt was signed by Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, the Bahrain Institutes for Rights and Democracy, Bahrain Watch, the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, and the European Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights.

FIA has yet to reply, human rights activists said, adding that in addition to targeting protesters, the Bahraini government’s restriction on free speech has led to the ongoing practice of denying journalists access to the country.

Journalists denied access to or deported from Bahrain during the Grand Prix include a news crew from UK Channel 4, who were deported in 2012, and an ITN news team, who were deported in 2013.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is presided by Nabeel Rajab, who has been in prison since July 9, 2012. He is serving a two-year sentence for protesting the government’s human rights violations, according to the NGO’s website.

It is also presided by Maryam al-Khawaja, whose father Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has been sentenced to life in prison and who carried out a long hunger strike during the 2012 Formula One.

The 2011 Formula One was cancelled due to Arab Spring protests in Bahrain, which saw the Shiite majority demand more democratic rights, and which was quelled in blood with the help of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) troops.

Three years after that bloody crackdown and the repression of dissent that followed, the same NGOs on March 4 called on the international community to pressure Bahrain to grant the right to self-determination, the right to protest peacefully, and freedom of expression.

The human rights activists also asked for a UN-supervised independent commission of inquiry into suspicious deaths that have occurred since 2011, and called on the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to urgently visit the country. The call follows on the death in police custody of a protester, Jaffar al-Durazi, in the village of Daih, on the outskirts of Manama, which was followed by a March 3 bomb attack that killed an Emirati officer and two policemen during clashes between security forces and Shiite protesters, according to media reports.

The government responded by arresting 25 people and announcing it will give no quarter in its fight against terrorism. ”We do not justify violence under any circumstance, but we believe no form of violence justifies further violations of human rights”, the NGOs said in their appeal.

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Bahrain’s oppression Grand Prix

Bernie Ecclestone and the bloody Bahrain Grand Prix, cartoon

As Formula One prepares for the Bahrain Grand Prix on April 19th, the crackdown on protestors continues, according to human rights organizations and journalists. But the billionaires who run F1 and the Gulf nation are going full speed ahead: here.

Bahrain opposition calls for big protests ahead of F1 race: here. And here.

Bahrain’s dark side – Empty promises while repression goes unabated: here.

Bahrain’s Formula One Grand Prix Crackdown: here.

Bahrain for closer ties with Nato: here.

Bahrain dictatorship and Manchester United football

In 2011, protests against the Bahrain Grand Prix left a boy wearing a Manchester United shirt dead. Photo: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

From the Daily Telegraph in England:

Manchester United risk political row over Denis Law‘s Bahrain visit

Denis Law, the legendary former Manchester United striker, risks being engulfed in a political row when he visits Bahrain on Saturday after allegations that a doctor in the strife-torn Gulf kingdom had been tortured for raising the issue of human rights abuses with the club.

By Oliver Brown

11:09PM BST 11 Apr 2013

As Law prepares to attend Manchester United’s latest Soccer School in Manama, the Bahraini capital, the New York-based organisation Human Rights First claimed yesterday that Dr Fatima Haji had been beaten and electrocuted by security forces after she asked the Premier League leaders if they would hold a minute’s silence for a teenage boy killed in the 2011 uprising.

On holiday in London: Dr Fatima Haji and her husband Jalal Marzouk. She was sentenced to five years in prison for helping people injured in Bahrain protests

Law’s daughter Diana, the former United head of press, told Telegraph Sport last night that she was “worried” by the claims and would be seeking further reassurance about her father’s visit, which comes amid heightened tensions in the country ahead of next Sunday’s Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix. Last year’s race was marred by scores of anti-government demonstrations.

Brian Dooley, director of Human Rights First, alleged that Dr Haji was subject to brutal interrogation by the Bahraini authorities in April 2011 after she appealed to the club to honour the memory of Ahmad Shams, the 15-year-old shot dead by police still wearing his United shirt.

According to Dooley, Dr Haji, a rheumatologist at Bahrain’s Salmaniya medical complex, said: “I was blindfolded and handcuffed with my hands behind my back, and beaten. A man asked me: ‘What is your relationship with Alex Ferguson?’ I was shocked and figured out they had gone through my emails. A female officer hit me on the head on both sides at the same time – she was wearing what I later found out was a special electrical band on her hands, and she electrocuted me a couple of times. I felt a shockwave through my head. It was very painful and the whole world was spinning.”

Dr Haji is said to have deleted her original email to United, realising that it could have proved incriminating amid Bahrain’s drastic security crackdown, only for police to arrest her on April 17, 2011, and discover United’s reply when they accessed the messages on her computer.

“As they had responded to my email the police thought I somehow knew someone at Manchester United,” she said, in Dooley’s account.

Dooley, speaking from Washington last night, said: “I think Manchester United should be aware of what happened, both of the boy who died wearing the shirt and the Fatima connection. It would be helpful if Denis Law could meet her.

The club should know what went on, that she was tortured at least partly because of her perceived association with United. The Bahrain authorities are very sensitive to their international reputation, and the idea that a major international player like United might think ill of them clearly mattered to them deeply.”

Along with 18 other doctors, she spent weeks in custody for treating injured protesters, and was sentenced to five years in prison before being acquitted on appeal last April. Three of her co-accused remain incarcerated, with Bahrain’s human rights record again due to be thrust into the spotlight by next weekend’s grand prix.

In this context, the timing of Law’s visit on United’s behalf could hardly be more politically sensitive. United did not respond to several requests for comment yesterday.

See also here.

Update: here.

Anger as Denis Law’s trip to Bahrain for Manchester United goes ahead. Denis Law has flown to Bahrain to visit a Manchester United soccer school after seeking Foreign Office advice over the controversial trip to the Gulf state in the wake of a female doctor being tortured for raising the issue of human rights abuses with the club: here.

Tension has increased ahead of next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix as anti-government demonstrators chanted ‘Your race is a crime’ while clashing with police who fired tear-gas and sound bombs: here.

No bloody Bahrain F1, says Damon Hill

Making their point: protesters in Bahrain who did not want the 2012 race to go ahead Photo: AP

From the Daily Telegraph in Britain:

Damon Hill: Bahrain should not hold grand prix as it could be used as a political tool

Former Formula One world champion Damon Hill has argued that the sport should not travel to Bahrain next week amid increasing signs that security forces in the Gulf kingdom are planning another drastic suppression of anti-government protests around the grand prix in 10 days’ time.

By Oliver Brown

6:30AM BST 11 Apr 2013

“The question is whether Formula One going to Bahrain would be enabling or furthering brutal repression, by appearing to endorse the treatment being meted out,” he said. “There is a perception that the sport is being used.”

Hill’s remarks, during a security briefing at Portcullis House, add to concerns in Westminster over the tinderbox political situation in Bahrain. Last year’s race was marred by scores of protests near the circuit …

Richard Burden, the Labour MP who called for the grand prix to be cancelled 12 months ago, said the kingdom had not carried out enough political reforms to justify holding the race again this year.

“If I was Jean Todt, president of the FIA, I would not want to run the race in the absence of the proper benchmarks and milestones,” he said. “Based on what I hear from the opposition forces, F1 will be even more of a focus for discontent this year.

“The demonstrations will increase. It is easy to keep F1 cocooned, but the sport should send out a message sensitive to the real situation in Bahrain. By its words and deeds, it must show that it is part of a broader international community.”

Burden expressed dismay with the comments of Bernie Ecclestone, F1’s commercial rights holder, who said last week he could see “no problems” in Bahrain and that he would be attending the grand prix at Sakhir. “I find that message surprising,” he continued. “The holding of this race should have some conditions attached to it – F1 should not see itself in a global bubble.”

The 2011 race had to be scrapped after at least 35 people were killed when Bahrain’s ruling Sunni elite crushed a pro-democracy uprising. After last year’s instalment went ahead against the backdrop of the tightest security, the opposition movement, Al Wefaq, claim that the reforms promised by King Hamad continue to be half-hearted at best. Unrest has again been witnessed in the outlying villages of Sitra and Sanabis.

See also here.

THIS year’s Grand Prix will again take place in Bahrain amid claims of widespread human rights abuses and, so far, the sport’s governing body have dodged the issue: here.

Baird’s support for regime in Bahrain: All part of Canada’s ‘royal’ foreign policy: here.