BBC Interviews Bernie Ecclestone & Bahrain Crown Prince

BBC sports correspondent Dan Roan has interviewed F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, as well as the Bahrain Crown Prince.

Ecclestone was asked if there were certain places he wouldn’t consider holding a race, such as Syria. He responded by saying, “They probably don’t have a circuit.” Asked, “If they did though?” Ecclestone replied: “We’d have to have a look and see.”

Ecclestone went on to say:

I keep asking people what human rights are … but I don’t know what they are. The rights are the people that live in a country and abide by the laws in that country whatever they are.

He added:

The government here were really, in a lot of ways, stupid to put this race on, because it’s a platform for people to use for protesting.

Asked if he’d heard about the crackdown reported by Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First and other NGOs, Ecclestone implied that they were baseless claims:

I think you’ve got the right word there – you “hear”. Which is exactly what happens. You “hear”.

Watch the full interview here.

The BBC also spoke with former F1 champion Sir Jackie Stewart, who echoed FIA President Jean Todt’s comments that “sport unifies people”, saying that those who are objecting to the race are “out of order” and “doing nobody any good at all”. Jackie Stewart’s son Mark runs a production company which has previously received contracts from the Bahrain government to do promotional work for the Bahrain International Circuit and the Bahrain International Air Show.

In another interview, the Bahrain Crown Prince said of MPs, human rights groups, and others who have criticised the race going ahead:

Well I wish they were here so they could see the reality on the ground. I think it’s easy to commentate from 3000 miles away. But unless you’re really familiar with the situation, it behooves one to come to the country first.

Watch the full interview here. Dan Roan also filed this report yesterday.

Could Bahrain launch the 2014 Formula One season?

Amidst the increasing controversy the event is bringing, Paul Weaver reports for The Guardian on the possibility that Bahrain may launch the 2014 Formula One season:

Bernie Ecclestone is considering launching next year’s Formula Oneseason in Bahrain. As tension built here on Friday, with an estimated 10,000 pro-democracy demonstrators gathering at Budaiya Highway in the afternoon and more serious trouble expected overnight, Ecclestone’s stance could be seen as provocative.

Hosting nations pay a special premium for the extra status of holding the opening race and if the move does go ahead teams are likely to spend a further week testing in the Gulf state.

The Bahrain International Circuit’s chairman, Zayed R Alzayani, revealed on Friday that he wanted his track to start the 2014 schedule when he said: “It gives us the chance to have the teams here longer, there is more anticipation and more unknowns.”

When F1’s chief executive and commercial rights holder Ecclestone was asked about it he said: “I hear they [Bahrain] are quite keen. We need to have a good look at it. We could do, I suppose.”

The opening race was held here in 2006 because Melbourne did not want the event to clash with their hosting of the Commonwealth Games. It also staged the first race in 2010, when they paid $40m (£26m) for the honour, a big increase from their previous fee of $25m. The following year’s race was postponed following the deaths of a number of anti-government demonstrators.

If the change is made there are likely to be misgivings in the paddock. F1 personnel were distinctly nervous here last year and although they were more relaxed when they arrived at the track on Wednesday there was a subdued mood in the garages on Friday as the awareness grew that more trouble was on the way. There were burning tyres – and they weren’t the highly degradable Pirellis on the Formula One cars.

Read full article

Govenment spokesperson calls F1 “a message of friendship and peace from Bahrain to the world”

Bahrain state media reports on comments by Sameera Rajab, Official Government Spokesperson and Minister for Information Affairs:

The minister described this world championship as a message of friendship and peace from Bahrain to the whole world, for it is not only a circuit for sporting competition, but a global gathering place for various nations, cultures and civilizations to meet and have dialogue. The minister highlighted that the event is accompanied by entertainment events, and various artistic shows reflecting the growing international confidence in the political and security stability, as well as the cultural and media openness in Bahrain.

The minister denounced that some foreign media have dealt with the Grand Prix in Bahrain from a purely security perspective, which involves exaggeration, distortion of facts and provoking terror among sports teams, citizens and residents.

The minister stressed that Bahrain is secure and stable and has a pioneering democratic and reformist experience in the region, and has succeeded in organizing this race for nine years in a row since 2004, as well as attaining the International Automobile Federation (FIA) Cup Award for the best organization, and has not witnessed any security, administrative or regulatory problems.

Sameera Rajab was made a Minister in April 2012, straight after last years F1. At the time of her appointment, the Christian Science Monitor described her as having “a track record of stirring up sectarian tensions”, noting that she had described Saddam Hussein as a “martyr” and a “freedom fighter”. She is also a proponent of 9/11 conspiracy theories, having described the terrorist attack as a “fabricated operation” in 2010. She became Official Spokesperson of the Government in November 2012.

Authorities respond to Anonymous’ #OpBahrain

On Sunday, hacktist group Anonymous issued a press release announcing “Operation Bahrain” – “Grand Prix Formula 1 To Be Shut Down”.

The Cyber Crimes Unit at the Ministry of Interior responded to the groups threat today, saying, “We are aware of the new cyber threats and are ready to defend hacking attempts.”

The Anonymous press release reads in full:

Greetings World —

We are Anonymous. And we have watched since the last Grand Prix F1 race in Manama, Bahrain. Since last year, we have had millions of eyes trained on the continuing oppression of our freedom loving brethren in Bahrain by the self-made “King” in Manama. Since last year, when Anonymous in solidarity with hundreds of thousands of Bahraini – shut down the Grand Prix F1 race and said “no” to blood racing. One year since Anonymous dumped the personal information including credit card and passport numbers, of all the F1 attendees in Bahrain – and yet Bernnie Eccelstone and the “Royal Family” of Bahrain have learned nothing. So we are coming forward this year to wreck your little party again Mr. Eccelstone. Anonymous will not stand by and allow you a race fueled by the blood of our freedom loving comrades in Bahrain.

Beginning with the opening festivities of your little blood race, you can expect the presence of Anons from all over the globe inside your intertoobz. We will remove you from the world wide web, whether you be Grand Prix or Bahrain government – we shall take it all down. We will expose the personal data of any person who supports this race in any way. You have been warned. Once the festivities for this race begin in Bahrain, all bets are off. We call upon Bernie Eccelstone while there is still time; cancel your blood race now.

We Are Anonymous

We Are Everywhere

We Are Legion

We Do Not Forgive

We Do Not Forget

Bernie Eccelstone & Bahrain Royal Family, it’s too late to… EXPECT US

The statement was also released as a video.

Amnesty International: “New move to crush dissent ahead of Grand Prix”

Amnesty International has strongly criticised plans by the Bahrain government to increase the sentence for anybody found guilty of insulting King Hamad to five years imprisonment. In a statement, Amnesty writes:

According to state media, Bahrain’s cabinet – chaired by the Prime Minister and the newly appointed deputy Prime Minister, the Crown Prince – on Sunday endorsed an amendment to Article 214 of the Penal Code, increasing the penalty for offending King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah or the country’s flag and other national symbols.

The amendment, which has now been referred to the National Assembly, would make such offences punishable by up to five years in prison in addition to steep fines.

“Increasing the punishment for criticism of Bahrain’s King is a further attempt to muzzle activists ahead of the upcoming Grand Prix,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“The authorities’ reliance on a vaguely worded criminal ‘offence’ to avoid scrutiny of their record says a lot about their own failures and lack of commitment to reform.

“Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Bahraini authorities to repeal articles of the Penal Code used to criminalize freedom of expression, including Article 214 which this measure would amend to increase the punishment to up to five years in prison.”

Read full statement

Six people were arrested on March 12th for “defaming the King on Twitter”. In November 2012, three citizens received jail sentences up to six months for tweeting insults against the King.

Security concerns raised after incident at Financial Harbour

AFP reports:

Bahrain vowed on Sunday to take “appropriate” security measures after a series of explosions raised security fears ahead of the kingdom’s premier international sporting event, the F1 Grand Prix motor race, scheduled for this weekend

The interior ministry said on Monday it would boost security after militants ignited a gas canister in a car in the central commercial district of the capital late on Sunday.

The blast outside the Bahrain Financial Harbour was accompanied by three other explosions on the outskirts of the capital Manama, with the February 14 youth movement claiming responsibility for the attacks, saying it was aimed at disrupting “activity in Manama’s financial centre in opposition to holding the Formula One race”, and pledging “more operations”.

(…)

Officials have downplayed the incident, which the interior ministry has not designated as a “terrorist incident”.

Bahrain “will ensure that appropriate security measures are taken during the F1 race and will take enough measures as in all other countries which host such international sporting events,” government spokeswoman Sameera Rajab said.

“The security situation in Bahrain is very reassuring,” she said, quoted by state news agency BNA.

The violence was condemned by several groups including opposition society Al-Wefaq and US-based NGOs Americans for Human Rights and Democracy in Bahrain and Human Rights First

Human Right First’s Brian Dooley said:

Thankfully no one was injured in these explosions, but there have been casualties in previous violent protests. If these bombings continue, there will inevitably be more injuries and deaths. Such attacks are wrong, increase the polarization in an already deeply divided society, and aren’t the way to achieve democracy in Bahrain.

The February 14 Youth Coalition, an underground opposition movement, are running a campaign against the Formula One which they call “Flame Volcanoes”.

Flame Volcanoes

They posted statement on their Facebook page about the Financial Harbour incident. Their English translation reads:

Urgent: after potting our trust in God, the process of “warning 3” is began amid financial Harbour junction in the capital Manama, in act of popular rejection of “formula 1” racing on our home land occupied by Saudis, including direct support to the bloodshed and continue support crimes against human rights.

A YouTube channel, created on March 28th, purports to show footage from the two previous “warnings”, where cars were driven to locations, doused with petrol, and set aflame.

Sheikh Nasser’s Foundation gives the Bahrain International Circuit an F1 Simulator

Bahrain state media reports on Sheikh Nasser, one of King Hamad’s sons:

The Nasser bin Hamad Foundation has presented a Formula 1 car simulator to the Bahrain International Circuit as a contribution from the foundation to promote the campaign of the circuit, “the home of motorsport in the Middle East”, to host the Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix from April 19 to 21.

The initiative of His Highness Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa is an affirmation from His Highness to the importance of playing an active part in supporting the Kingdom in embracing this wonderful international event, which enhances Bahrain’s reputation on the international sporting arena.

Sheikh Nasser is a controversial figure who is accused of being involved in torture during the government crackdown in 2011. He denies the allegations.

Last year, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) submitted evidence to the British government calling on them to prevent him attending the London Olympics in his role as the head of Bahrain’s Olympic committee. They were unsuccessful in their attempt. The Guardian reported at the time:

Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa is claimed to have been “personally engaged” in beating, flogging and kicking pro-democracy protestors during Bahrain’s brief chapter in the Arab spring last year.

Documents submitted to David Cameron and William Hague, the foreign secretary, and seen by the Guardian, describe how Sheikh Nasser launched “a punitive campaign to repress Bahraini athletes who had demonstrated their support (for) the peaceful pro-democracy movement.

“Following his directives more than 150 professional athletes, coaches and referees were subjected to arbitrary arrests, night raids, detention, abuse and torture by electric cables and other means,” said the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), a Berlin-based group.

Mohammed Hassan Jawad described how he and Mohammed Habeebe al-Muqdad were treated by the king’s son at Manama Fort prison clinic on April 9 after they had taken part in a demonstration calling for the overthrow of the regime. “He started abusing us, began to flog, beat and kicked us everywhere,” Jawad told a dissident newspaper quoted by the ECCHR. “He took a rest and drank water and then resumed the torture by pulling us from our hair and beards. No one else was involved in our torture and hence agony… He ordered the jailers to put our feet up to beat us. The torture continued for almost half a day until dawn.”