Maryam AlKhawaja asks “What happens when the cameras are gone?”

With the race now over, Maryam AlKhawaka, Acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, writes for The Independent:

There are those who say that the Formula One should not be canceled, but instead used as an opportunity to get media attention for the situation on the ground. It is true that media attention is not only appreciated, but also crucial to improving the situation on the ground in Bahrain. The question is not whether Bahraini’s benefit from the media attention which will highlight their plight as they continue their struggle for rights and freedoms, but rather what takes place during the race – and more importantly, what happens after the cameras are gone.

Salah Abbas Habib was well respected amongst the protesters. He was a father of four young children, and their only provider. During last year’s race, he was stopped by security forces, severely beaten, and shot with pellets. His dead body was found the next morning.

A group of minors were arrested in April 2012 in preparation for the Formula One. Some of them were thrown off the roof of the house they were in. They were reportedly severely beaten, which in some cases amounted to torture. They remained in prison until June that year. Some are currently in hiding, because they are wanted by authorities. Others are in prison after getting sentenced. The plight of these minors did not stop with the end of the race.

On the afternoon of the April 18, 2013, security forces arrested four children in Bani Jamrah. One of these children was 13-year-old Mahdi Salah Al-Khawaja. When Mahdi was just 11 years old, security forces pointed a gun to his face as they raided his family home. He then watched as his father was beaten severely, taken up to the roof, thrown off, then taken away. His mother was taken into a room and sexually assaulted. His father was subjected to severe torture then sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, which he continues to serve today. Mahdi has been traumatized for two years, and today he was arrested, hit on the head and held at a police station for several hours.

The question then, is not whether the media attention accompanying the race is important or not, the question is who will compensate the victims of this race for the price of getting that attention? When the cameras are gone, the crackdown intensifies as revenge, and the world is no longer paying attention; who will take care of Salah Ali’s children? Who will provide a safe place for the minors on the run? And who will hold Mahdi’s hand if he’s afraid of the dark?

Read full article.

Julian Assange speaks about Bahrain F1

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, gave an interview to Russia Today about Bahrain in which he spoke about the Formula One:

RT: You mentioned that it was almost a cartoonish imprisonment, which happened to Nabeel Rajab. Can you give an assessment of the regime in Bahrain altogether?

JA: I was born in 1971. The prime minister of Bahrain [Khalifah ibn Sulman al-Khalifah] was put in power in 1971.

RT: So, is there absolutely no democracy in Bahrain?

JA: That’s the answer to your question. There’s 42 years this man has been in power in Bahrain. There’s no significant democracy. The Shia group is very significant, people argue – slight minority or a slight majority of the population, kept out of political life. The relationship between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia – the two countries face each other and they share a border with each other. And the Saudis are economically dominant to Bahrain, and are worried about any sort of resistance gaining power in Bahrain because the political movements in Bahrain have a habit of seeping over into the Saudi Arabia and into the Shia populations in Saudi Arabia. That’s why you saw during the uprising a desperate measure by the Bahraini regime of pulling in Saudi troops, to crack down on their own population.  The Bahraini regime sold its sovereignty in order to crack down on its own domestic population.

RT: You mentioned: “provided if the international pressure keeps up” in relation to Rajab. Do you think there’s been enough international pressure on the Bahraini regime?

JA: There’s obviously hasn’t been enough in the West. I mean look at the example of the US and the UK. There has been some, and it’s interesting to look at what Bahrain has done in response. Well, it’s flown in Kim Kardashian and these other people, who will sell their soul to promote the Bahraini regime. You see Kim Kardashian putting tweet after tweet about how wonderful it is thanks to the sheik and so on. It’s disgusting. These people are disgusting. Everyone should know that their loyalties are for sale, similarly, with the Formula 1, exactly, the same thing.

Bahrain has just bought that in order to cover up its human rights abuses and its bad reputation. There’s another way of dealing with things, which is – you can improve your reputation by actually stopping what you’re doing. Instead, Bahrain if it really wanted to improve its reputation it could release Nabeel Rajab. Until it releases Nabeel Rajab, no serious organization should have any involvement with the Bahraini regime. No organization who’s involved with Bahrain can be seen to be credible when Nabeel Rajab is in prison.

Read full interview.

Roundup of some recent reports by journalists

Over the course of the week, a growing number of journalists have arrived in Bahrain to report on the buildup to the race. A Twitter list of journalists in Bahrain has been created by US activist Dutch Johnson here. Here is a small selection of journalists reports:

Oliver Brown, Daily Telegraph, April 18th 2013

Efforts by the authorities to project an impression of ‘move along, no problems here’ have also been heightened, with police patrol cars lining every stretch of motorway. On the first night here, it took my driver four attempts to evade the checkpoints on the return journey to Juffair, and only then because he recognised a Bahraini police officer whom he knew would subject him to less of an inquisition than the man’s Saudi colleagues.

This driver disclosed that he earned more than enough money not to be transporting journalists behind the police cordon for reasons of financial gain. Rather, having lost a close friend in the failed 2011 insurrection, he said: “For the sake of your children, you must not let this repression happen to anybody else, for any reason.”

It would be a salutary lesson for Formula One to heed.

Read full article. See also Oliver Brown’s articles from Tuesday and Wednesday.

Kevin Eason, The Times, April 18th 2013

Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Bahrain International Circuit chief executive, said: “The Gulf’s largest annual sporting and social event creates a global awareness for Bahrain and Bahraini companies.”

You would think his message of economic hope would gladden the hearts of the poor Bahrainis in their villages. But a doctor, who cannot be named because he was jailed during the uprising, told me that he could not support the grand prix. It was seen simply as an instrument of Government and an event far beyond the pockets of the ordinary people.

“I am a fan,” he said. “I love Formula One and grew up watching drivers like Damon Hill. But this is not for me or for the people here. It is for the Government and their people and the protests will go on as long F1 is here or there is peace.”

Faisal Hayyad is a sports journalist who lost his job after being jailed for six months, he says, for taking part in one of the mass demonstrations. “In 2004 when F1 came, the Government told us there would be a bright economic future. But it never happened, Formula One is for the elite, not the people. It is for politics and politics and sport must be kept apart.”

The grand prix will go ahead, but Formula One, the sport famous for driving at high speeds in circles, should surely fear that it is trapped in Bahrain’s revolving door of accusation and recrimination for years to come.

Read full article. See also Kevin Eason’s articles from Tuesday and Wednesday.

Paul Weaver, The Guardian, April 17th 2013

The February 14 Youth Coalition, the underground movement that named itself after the date of the uprising in Bahrain two years ago, is stepping up its protests to Sunday’s grand prix.

The coalition has embarked on a week-long campaign entitled “volcanic flame” and Ala’a Shehabi, a British-born activist and economics lecturer, said here on Wednesday night: “There will be many more protests from early on Thursday morning and through Friday. There will be road-blocks everywhere.”

But pro-democracy protesters opposed to Sunday’s race have also been frustrated by increased security measures which have driven them out of the capital, Manama. Shehabi said: “There was a blanket ban on all protests after last year’s grand prix. People have been forced underground now. Protesters have been pushed to parts of small villages where they can’t be heard or seen. As long as you’re not seen or heard by anyone it’s OK.

“There is a continuation of government repression. We haven’t seen justice or accountability for the F1 staff who were sacked and arrested and tortured in 2011. They were tortured at the circuit itself.”

Read full article. See also Paul Weaver’s articles from Tuesday and today.

See also Ian Parkes’ interview with Bahrain International Circuit chairman Zayed R Alzayani, and for an alternative perspective from a British journalist, see Jonathan McEvoy’s report for the Daily Mail who argues that a “vast majority” in Bahrain support the race.

Said Yousif Al-Mahafdah: “We ask that you look beyond the track”

Said Yousif Al-Mahafdah is the head of monitoring at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). The President of the BCHR, Nabeel Rajab, is currently serving a two year sentence for organising and participating in protests. In 2011, BCHR’s founder, Abdulhadi AlKhawaja was arrested, severely tortured and sentenced to life imprisonment. Both sentences have been internationally condemned. Said Yousif has himself been persecuted by the Bahrain government. He has been arrested several times when observing protests and last year was beaten at a police checkpoint in front of his two young daughters.

In an article for the Huffington Post, Said Yousif Al-Mahafdah asks the world to “look beyond the track” and instead, “look into the streets of Bahrain, where those who want democracy are in a race against time for their lives and freedom”. His article reads in part:

For the second consecutive year, Bahrain will host a Formula One (F1) race despite severe human rights violations documented by local and international human rights organizations, including the United Nations.

For the second consecutive year, the race will proceed with great fanfare as the plight of dozens of athletes who weredetained and tortured for exercising their freedom of expression goes unnoticed. Many of these athletes weretargeted, arrested and defamed because of their participation in the “Athletes March,” a peaceful march by athletes who supported the 14th February Revolution at the Pearl Roundabout. Some remain in jail.

For the second consecutive year, the suffering of the staff of the Bahrain International Circuit – the company that hosts the F1 race – is being ignored. Back in 2011, the staff’s offices were raided by security forces, and some were subjected to torture inside the F1 premises. Some were even fired from their jobs.

(…)

We, as human rights activists in Bahrain, ask journalists who are coming to cover the F1 to see the other side of things here, the side hidden by the authorities. We ask them tocome and see the daily protests in over 40 areas of Bahrain where people demand their freedom and their right of self-determination. We ask them to observe how peaceful protestors are often met with collective punishment using tear gas and shotgun pellets.

We ask them to watch as the seriously injured are scared to go to government hospitals because they have been militarized. Even private hospitals have been instructed by the Ministry of Health in Bahrain not to treat injured protestors and to report them immediately to the police upon arrival to the hospital. The BCHR recently issued a detailed report on the militarization of hospitals and the lack of medical neutrality. Despite the ongoing abuses in Bahrain, weapons sellers are ready to supply the Bahrain authorities with the weapons used in its crackdown.

If they look, journalists will have no problem witnessing the deterioration of freedom of expression in Bahrain, including the arrest of those who publish their views on Twitter. I was among those arrested just minutes after tweeting a photo of an injured Bahraini who was shot by shotgun bullet. I was imprisoned for my post.

Read full article

Follow Said Yousif Al-Mahafdah on Twitter at @SAIDYOUSIF

Justin Gengler asks “Who needs the Bahrain Grand Prix?”

Academic Dr Justin Gengler writes for Foreign Policy on some of the local dynamics structuring opposition to (and support for) the Bahrain Grand Prix:

Since its first running in 2004, the Bahrain Grand Prix has been a mainstay of the country’s complex political calendar. Indeed, controversy brewed well before a single race could take place, with critics decrying the expense of constructing the vast Bahrain International Circuit even as many citizens struggled to find jobs, housing, and affordable land. At the same time, the track’s isolation in the far south of the island — well, as far south as one can go before hitting military fences — fed the notion that the race, hosted not far from Sakhir Palace, was conceived mostly as a diversion for society’s elite, and aptly demonstrated the misplaced social and economic priorities of the ruling family.

As such, the Formula One event consistently has been the occasion for popular protest and violence, giving the impression that the event is but a microcosm of Bahrain’s larger opposition-government divide, with the latter pursuing self-serving policies while ordinary Bahrainis try in vain to effect meaningful change.

(…)

The reality, however, is more complex. Whereas Bahrain’s decentralized street movement vowed to target the Financial Harbor “to demonstrate revolutionaries’ rejection of the Formula One race,” the continuing protests of the moderate opposition aim instead to capitalize on the event for its own political ends. “We do not want to hold up the race,” explained al-Wefaq Secretary General Sheikh Ali Salman, “but we are trying to benefit from the increased media presence.”

(…)

Accordingly, that Formula One has returned to Bahrain following its absence in 2011 is most notable not for overcoming domestic or international pressure, but for having escaped the fate of [Crown Prince] Sheikh Salman’s other flagship political and economic initiatives. These include innovative but (among business owners) unpopular labor market reforms that incentivized employment of Bahraini citizens over foreign migrants, as well as the Economic Development Board, once a virtual shadow cabinet chaired by the crown prince that today barely functions.

Like these now-defunct institutions, the Bahrain Grand Prix represents part of a larger economic strategy launched by King Hamad bin Isa shortly after his 1999 succession and eventually superintended by his son Sheikh Salman. The program, a complement to simultaneous (if largely illusory) political liberalizations, aimed to end Bahrain’s overwhelming fiscal reliance upon natural resources in general and upon oil and gas provided by Saudi Arabia in particular.

Among other efforts to diversify the sources of state revenue, Bahrain courted Western and Gulf Arab tourists through the promotion of a liberal social climate and high-profile international events. In addition to making the country’s economy more competitive and diversified, this long-term strategy also sought to chip away at the lines of economic-cum-political patronage upon which the king’s challengers within the ruling family, in particular the powerful prime minister, depended.

(…)

Read full article

 

Brian Dooley: “Bahrain is becoming even more repressive”

Brian Dooley, from Human Rights First, writes for The Atlantic:

The promoters of Bahrain’s Grand Prix urge you to “Imagine your moment.” It’s a great slogan. It’s supposed to reflect “the excitement from all Formula 1 fans… as well as all the memorable moments people create during the enjoyable time they have at the race.”

The Bahrain Grand Prix will occur later this month despite the controversy of holding the race amid a fierce government crackdown on political dissent and increasingly violent protests. The 2011 race was cancelled due to the country’s turmoil, but last year’s Grand Prix went on anyway.

(…)

Bahrain’s rulers are invested financially and psychologically in the F1. It brings international prestige to the tiny kingdom, where the ruling family keeps tight control of power and the king’s uncle has been the unelected prime minister for over 40 years. The Bahraini Mumtalakat Holding Company, which boasts several members of the ruling family on its board of directors, co-owns McLaren, one of the leading F1 teams.

(…)

Now it seems that fresh human rights violations are being committed in anticipation of the race, presumably to dissuade protests. One woman told me masked men had seized one of her family members in a dawn raid a few days ago without an arrest warrant. “We live so close to the track we can hear the cars racing. Masked men came and took him and we’ve heard nothing since about his whereabouts or what the charge is. He was taken because of this F1.”

Read full article

Lord Avebury calls for F1 boycott

Lord Avebury, Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, writes for Liberal Democrat Voice:

Bernie Ecclestone is an appropriate person to be the public face of Formula 1, a ‘sport’ which is fast becoming known as the event of choice for autocrats who wish to launder their international reputation, as evidenced by the appearance of races in Bahrain and Dubai in recent years.

Ecclestone famously praised Thatcher, Hitler and Saddam a few years ago, saying that he preferred strong leaders, that Hitler was a man who was ‘able to get things done’, and yet paradoxically, that politics ‘is not for me’.

(…)

If the race does go ahead this year, it will be the duty of the media to use it as the introduction to a closer scrutiny of Bahrain’s abysmal record on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. They should also look at Britain’s shameful friendship with this former colony of ours. We supplied them with their chief torturer Ian Henderson in the 1990s, and today they are regular buddies with the Queen and the Prime Minister. This doesn’t stack up with our claim to promote the freedoms we enjoy ourselves across the globe.

This is all a matter of indifference to Ecclestone. He reportedly told the Bahraini activist Alaa Shehabi last year that he wouldn’t mind if the race was cancelled, because he had already cashed the check from the Bahraini government. His priority is profit and he evinces no sign of concern about the suffering of those who have to pay the price for it.

Let’s hope that Bahrain will follow in the steps of South Africa, where the Formula 1 races were cancelled in 1985 amid rising international awareness of the moral bankruptcy of the Apartheid regime. Bahrain’s regime is equally discriminatory and corrupt, and deserves the same fate.