As the eyes of the sporting world turn to Bahrain’s Formula One Grand Prix this weekend, Amnesty International urges the country’s authorities not to quash peaceful protests surrounding the event.
The Formula One racing tournament is due to take place in Bahrain from 4-6 April. In previous years, the authorities have taken severe repressive measures against pro-reform demonstrators, activists opposed to the Royal family and human rights campaigners during the event.
“Bahrain’s authorities must not repeat past mistakes by restricting freedom of movement or crushing protests. The rights of people in Bahrain to peacefully to express their opposition to government policies and voice human rights concerns are legitimate and must be respected,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
Opposition activists calling for a boycott of the Grand Prix have already been branded “traitors” by the government. There are fears that the authorities may use recent unrest, including terror attacks on police, to justify imposing further restrictions during the Grand Prix, such as preventing people from leaving their villages and clamping down on peaceful protests.
During previous Grand Prix events, foreign and local journalists were barred from covering protests, with some deported from Bahrain for attempting to do so without permission.
"Rather than continuing to resort to security measures to deal with anti-government protests, Bahrain’s authorities should mark the Grand Prix by announcing concrete steps to address the dire state of human rights in the country,” said Said Boumedouha.
“Three years on from the 2011 uprising, Bahrain has seen only cosmetic changes and empty promises of reform. Arbitrary arrests, crackdowns on protests and torture in custody continue unabated. Using the Grand Prix to boost Bahrain’s public image is little more than a blatant attempt to gloss over mounting abuses with the hype of an international sporting event.”
Compounding ongoing abuses, there is also a complete absence of accountability for past violations, with a host of victims and their families still awaiting justice for killing and torture that occurred during previous Grand Prix events.
Grand Prix injustice
Two years after Salah ‘Abbas Habib’s death during the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix, his family is still awaiting justice. The 37-year-old was shot dead by security forces on 20 April 2012 following protests in Manama. His family was prevented from seeing his body for three days. In November 2013 a policeman was acquitted of involvement in his killing because of lack of evidence and contradictory testimonies from witnesses. No one else has been prosecuted in relation to his death.
During last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, Nafeesa al-‘Asfoor, 31, and Rayhana al-Mousawi, 38, were arrested after they attempted to enter the Formula One circuit to protest against the imprisonment of political activists. Both have been charged with the intent to commit terrorist acts and possession of explosives. Their trial is ongoing. Last September Rayhana was sentenced to five years in prison in a separate case for links to the “14 February Coalition”, a youth movement which was named a terrorist organization by the authorities in March 2014.
The women claim they were tortured and ill-treated during interrogation and were forced to sign “confessions” which they later withdrew. Amnesty International is calling for a thorough and independent investigation into the women’s allegations of torture and for those responsible to be brought to justice.
This year’s Grand Prix also marks three years since the arrest of Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, former president of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA). He spent 64 days in solitary confinement and was beaten and tortured in custody even after he had signed a forced “confession”. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience arrested solely for the peaceful expression of his views and is calling for his immediate and unconditional release and for his torture allegations to be investigated.
A number of human rights activists, including Nabeel Rajab and Abdelhadi Al-Khawaja, and hundreds of other political prisoners are languishing in prison solely because they peacefully led or called for anti-government protests.
“The entrenched culture of impunity within Bahrain’s security forces means that, time and again, those responsible for torture and other serious violations are allowed to walk free. Instead of addressing current abuses, Bahrain’s authorities continue to seek international recognition through pursuits such as the Grand Prix while brazenly flouting the rights of their own people,” said Said Boumedouha.