Bahrainis "angry" at Formula One green light: opposition

A handout photo from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights of Bahraini security forces approaching protesters in Turkish APVs on 12 April 2012 (Photo: Bahrain Center for Human Rights - Handout)

Published Friday, April 13, 2012

A senior figure of a Bahraini opposition party said on Friday the majority of Bahrainis are "angry" that Formula One has decided to go ahead with its scheduled Grand Prix in the troubled Gulf state.

The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) declared in a statement on Friday that the race, cancelled last year after a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protestors and in doubt again due to ongoing violence, was on.

It said it had made the decision after regular briefings from senior diplomatic officials and "independent experts" in the Gulf kingdom.

Formula One's commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone, mobbed by reporters after a meeting with representatives of the 12 teams at the Chinese Grand Prix, declared the race "200 percent" certain to go ahead.

"All the teams are happy to be there," added the 81-year-old. "There's nothing happening. I know people who live there and it's all very quiet and peaceful."

Not so quiet and peaceful according to Mattar Ebrahim of the opposition Al-Wefaq party, who said that the Formula One's decision to press ahead with the event demonstrates that the international community is ignoring the ongoing human rights violations in the country.

"This acceptance represents an ignoring of human rights violations, which is still ongoing in Bahrain. The unrest is ongoing in Bahrain. The violations mentioned in the BICI report still exist, and this requires international attention instead of its dismissal," he told Al-Akhbar.

Alaa Shehabi, founder of Bahrain Watch, had met with Ecclestone to dissuade him from the Grand Prix, and called the go ahead of the event as a "provocation."

"This is a provocation to the victims, to the 85 people who have been killed, and the hundreds still in detention. We're going to see celebrations on TV, and down the road the people are going to be living in sadness and misery," she said.

Shehabi then criticized the press and Formula One for focusing on the safety of their drivers, while ignoring the plight of Bahrainis facing continued repression from the regime.

"Even the debate is framed around safety of the drivers, but we're concerned for our own safety. There's going to be a huge clamp down on protests," she said.

Ebrahim said he will not seek to undermine the Grand Prix, but instead use it as an opportunity to air grievances with the expected swarming of international media to the island state.

"We will deal with it as an opportunity to speak out about our suffering from this regime," he said.

Protests during the Grand Prix have not yet been officially called by opposition parties, but Ebrahim said preparations on social media are underway.

"We have not announced activities for this period as yet, but on social media a lot of preparations are going on for protests [during the Grand Prix]," he said.

Shehabi struck a similar cord, and said youth groups are already planning mass protests during the Grand Prix. One youth group, according to Shehabi, has already announced "three days of rage" during the event, which will include an attempt to blacken the skies by burning tires.

In a sign of increased security measures, authorities attacked protesters last night in the capital Manama, with several injured from bird pellet shots.

"We're concerned with the increase in use of birdshot, there were tens of injuries last night," Shehabi said, adding that the ferocity of the crackdown was increasing and is expected to continue during next week's Grand Prix.

Bahrain has faced a pro-democracy uprising since February 2011, with no signs of a political solution to the crisis.

Bahraini authorities attempted to brutally crush the uprising last March with the aid of Saudi troops, but protests resurfaced toward the end of last year, and continue to challenge the autocratic rule of the al-Khalifa royal family.

Another fuse that could explode during the Grand Prix is the continued hunger strike of jailed leading human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.

Al-Khawaja, also a Danish citizen and head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has refused food for 64 days in protest at his detention for his involvement in pro-democracy rallies in 2011.

Maryam al-Khawaja, his daughter, said in a statement late Thursday that her father was on his "death bed" and urged Bahraini authorities to release him.

Denmark has also called on Bahrain to repatriate Abdulhadi, while leading human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, co-signed a letter last week to US President Barack Obama urging he apply pressure on his Bahraini ally to release the activist.

(Al-Akhbar, Reuters)

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