The pressure is on again for Formula One to quit its Grand Prix in Bahrain over that country’s steadily declining human rights abuses.
Unrest in the Gulf island kingdom last spring led to the cancellation of the high-profile race in Bahrain last year, a move human rights groups want repeated.
Saudi Arabia’s automotive aspirations
Bahrain had been dropped from the 2011 calendar following protests from Formula One teams and drivers after widespread civil unrest last February and March. But by September Bahrain it was able to win back a spot on this year’s racing schedule, a boost for the country’s key tourism industry and a vote of confidence. Now, the Formula One Grand Prix is slated to take place on April 22
That will be disappointing to all those people who were killed and injured in the uprising that was calling for democracy and human rights that is why I urge all the teams, the drivers, the mechanics, those people who are working close with Formula One to boycott it,” Nabeel Rajab, president for Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told The Media Line.
“This is the wrong message to send to my government. My government
committed a lot of crimes against humanity. And coming to Bahrain at
this point of time when you have hundreds of political prisoners, you
have people whose have been tortured and whose houses have been raided
and mosques have been demolished and at the same you have Formula One
coming to Bahrain, that is the wrong message, a negative message.
Bahraini people will be upset by it. And I hope those teams will boycott
it,” Rajab said.
Rajab said that many Bahraini people working for Formula One in the past
had been detained and tortured and he hoped their international
colleagues would show solidarity with them by refusing to come to
Reached by The Media Line, an official from Bahrain International
Circuit, which hosts the high-profile race, declined to comment on the
No comment was immediately available from Formula One. But in November,
Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One’s chief executive officer, told British
media that the race would take place as scheduled unless “something
terrible happens to stop us.”
Bahrain reportedly paid around $39.2 million in hosting fees for last year’s scrapped three-day race.
When the premier Formula One race was first hosted by Bahrain in 2004,
it put the Middle East firmly on the map of auto racing. Often regarded
as the world’s most widely followed of motor sport, more than half a
billion people tuned into Formula One races last year.
Bahrain has been the only Gulf country to be swept up in the Arab Spring
turmoil. It is a tiny, oil-poor country, but is of key concern to its
neighbors and to the US, which bases the Navy’s Fifth Fleet there. It is
located in the waters between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Its mixed
population of Sunnis and Shiites makes it a flashpoint in the sectarian
cold war between the two Muslim sects.
Thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets in February and March last
year demanding curbs on the power of the ruling Al-Khalifa family and an
end to perceived discrimination. King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa imposed
martial law and brought Saudi and United Arab Emirate (UAE) forces into
the country to crack down on demonstrators who demanded political reform
and greater freedoms in Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority Bahrain.
But the severity of the crackdown – which left about 60 dead and led to
the arrest of some 1,400 people, many of them still in prison – has left
many Bahrainis feeling alienated and disillusioned. Small-scale clashes
between police and mostly Shiite demonstrators have persisted on an
almost daily basis.
King Hamad has recently agreed to implement some gestures of political
reform following an independent commission which found police used
excessive force against
Last week, a Bahraini woman reportedly died from inhaling tear gas
during a demonstration near the capital of Manama. And over the weekend,
Reporters Without Borders issued a report condemning Bahrain security
forces for intimidating and attacking journalists.
Mariwan Hama-Saeed, of New York-based Human Rights Watch, also said
Formula One had no place in a country where the police were guilty of
using excessive force and torture.
“I doubt that Formula One can be a success in a country where serious
human rights abuses have been committed. The political situation is
unstable and polarized in Bahrain,” Hama-Saeed was quoted as saying in
Bahrain was the only Arab country to host a Formula One World
Championship (FOM) race until 2009, when Abu Dhabi succeeded in bringing
the event to the United Arab Emirates. Another Gulf emirate, Qatar,
too, has it wants to host the Formula One as part of a strategy to draw
more sports to the emirate