Bahrain’s government is tightening its chokehold, say campaigners
by Our Sports Desk
BEHIND the fast cars at this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, the government is “tightening its chokehold on any remnant of dissent,” rights campaigners warned yesterday as the blood-soaked regime put on its annual motor circus.
Amnesty International called on the Bahraini authorities to mark this year’s grand prix by releasing all prisoners of conscience held in the country.
It pointed to prominent political prisoners Sheikh Ali Salman, Ebrahim Sharif and Fadhel Abbas Mahdi Mohamed as well as human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, who was arrested on March 14 along with her baby son Hadi, to serve a prison sentence handed down after she tore up a photo of the Bahraini king.
The Gulf kingdom was rocked by some of the biggest protests of the Arab Spring in 2011, responding to the call for democracy with troops imported from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to help carry out a brutal wave of repression.
Ninety-three civilians were killed in the violence, while thousands were arrested and tortured — many of them are still behind bars.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director James Lynch said: “Behind the fast cars and the victory laps lies a government that is tightening its chokehold on any remnant of dissent in the country by stepping up arrests, intimidation and harassment of political opposition, critics and activists.
“The alarming erosion of human rights in Bahrain in recent years means that anyone who dares to criticise the authorities or call for reform risks severe punishment.
“The modest reforms introduced after the 2011 uprising have demonstrably failed to live up to the hopes and promises they raised to protect and promote human rights.”
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird) wrote to FIA president Jean Todt yesterday calling for the body to implement UN guidelines on business and human rights ahead of the race.
Formula One committed itself to “respecting human rights in Bahrain and other countries in which it conducts business” following uproar surrounding last year’s grand prix.
But Bird said 57 arbitrary arrests had taken place in the two weeks leading up to the race, adding to the 3,500 political prisoners languishing in Bahraini jails.
Bird advocacy director Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei said: “In the past five years, severe human rights violations have been committed during the race authorised by the FIA. These include arbitrary arrests, torture and killings.
“Until now, the FIA have shirked responsibility and failed to use their leverage. We want to remind them of their responsibilities, which means being prepared to cancel the race if necessary to prevent serious rights abuses.”