Last week, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone announced that a Grand Prix race will be held in Bahrain on April 22. “There’s nothing happening. I know people who live there and it’s all very quiet and peaceful,” he says according to the Guardian.
The decision to hold the Grand Prix suggests that, over a year after wide-scale anti-government protests that led to the ruling Al Khalifa family calling in Saudi troops and imposing martial law for months, things are back to normal. It is a “victory” for Bahrain’s government, business community and many others, says the BBC. For pro-democracy activists and human rights organizations, it is a setback.
Also last week, Amnesty International released a short briefing describing the continuing human rights crisis in the Gulf island kingdom that makes it clear that Bahrain is anything but “very quiet and peaceful.”
Says Amnesty International:
The human rights crisis in Bahrain is not over. Despite the authorities’ claims to the contrary, state violence against those who oppose the Al Khalifa family rule continues, and in practice, not much has changed in the country since the brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in February and March 2011.
… Reforms have been piecemeal, perhaps aiming to appease Bahrain’s international partners, and have failed to provide real accountability and justice for the victims. Human rights violations are continuing unabated. The government is refusing to release scores of prisoners who are incarcerated because they called for meaningful political reforms, and is failing to address the Shi’a majority’s deeply-seated sense of discrimination and political marginalisation, which has exacerbated sectarian divides in the country.
Protests among Bahrain’s majority Shi’ite community, which has long described discrimination for positions in the government and army, continue on a daily basis. Imprisoned Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who was given a life sentence by a special security court, has been on a hunger strike for over two months. Denmark, where he also holds citizenship, and the U.S., whose Navy’s Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain, have been pressing for Al-Khawaja’s release.
Al-Khawaja’s daughter, Zainab Al-Khawaja, has been arrested a number of times at protests and continues to describe the efforts of peaceful protesters facing riot police armed with tear gas and more on her Angry Arabiya Twitter feed. On Friday, three teenage protesters were wounded, at a rally following the funeral for a man who was shot at an anti-government protest two weeks ago.
Earlier last week, seven police officers were wounded when a homemade bomb exploded on Monday, says the New York Times. Two days later, a mob wielding iron rods and sticks ransacked a supermarket owned by a Shiite-owned business group, apparently in retaliation for the bombing:
According to the BBC, it is “impossible to assess what proportion of Bahrainis want F1 and what proportion do not.” Some in the Shi’ite as well as the Sunni community see the Grand Prix race as offering a much-needed boost to the country’s flagging economy. Some “moderate, intelligent political figures in the Shia-led opposition” say that holding the race will help to “bridge the gap” between the government and the opposition. A year ago, a Grand Prix race scheduled to be held in Bahrain was cancelled in the wake of the government’s brutal crackdown on protesters.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International will release a full report, Flawed Reforms: Bahrain fails to achieve justice for protesters. Ecclestone and the FIA, racing’s governing body, would do well to read it, to realize how the decision to hold the Bahrain Grand Prix is trampling on human rights in Bahrain and how very, very far from “normal” things are in the Gulf island state.
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