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.

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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.

Video roundup

A selection of amateur footage shot over the past 24 hours. The opposition Feb 14 Media site has additional photographs and videos.

Al Qadem – A family try and resist their son’s arrest. Police ultimately respond with tear gas (via @alaashehabi):

Sitra – Anti-F1 protesters on Friday evening say: “Your race is a crime” and “Your race will fail“. (via @MARYAMALKHAWAJA)

Footage of similar anti-F1 protests from Al Dair, Markuban and the capital Manama, where protesters also chanted: “Let your palaces hear, your prisons we do not fear.”

Sitra – Street battles Thursday night (via @alaashehabi)

Sitra – Birdshot bellets, fired by security forces, being removed from a man’s leg (via @alaashehabi)

Sitra – A young man sets fire to a car on the street on Thursday in broad daylight as a protest against the F1 race. VIDEO.

Barbar – Young men spray the English slogan “No F1 – Don’t race on our blood” on a wall.

Buri – Young men block the road on the main highway by Buri with burning tyres, then proceed to burn all the F1 chequered flags flying from posts along the road.

Three journalists deported

Bahrain state media has just confirmed earlier rumours on social media that 3 foreign journalists have been deported. In a statement, the Information Affairs Authority claimed that the journalists had violated Bahraini “laws and regulations”. The IAA claims that the journalists had been warned “more than once” about breaking media regulations (h/t @marcowenjones).

The 3 journalists are from ITN a (specifically, ITV News) and were deported “after being questioned at a local police station”.

Update: 16:14BST – Bahraini journalist Nazeeha Saeed, who is a correspondent for France 24 and Monte Carlo, was working with the ITN crew. She has tweeted the following (I have removed hashtags for clarity):

Bahrain deported ITN team in their second day in the country, they get arrested while shooting AlSadiq mosque in Qfoul

My press card was withdrawn (Information Security) after that I was asked to leave the police station with the driver after the detention of ITN team

Police pulled my security media card and asked me to leave the police station with the driver after arresting ITN team

We asked [Ministry of Interior] & [Information Affairs Authority] why the ITN team been deported, no answer was given.

Update: 16:45 – A report in The Independent carries further details, including a statement from ITV News (note: ITN produces ITV News):

The group, who had the necessary visas permitting them to work there, were then again questioned and taken to a police station today, before being told they must leave the country or face going to prison.

(…)

An ITV News spokeswoman said: “Our news team were on assignment with visas approved by the Bahraini authorities.

“Having filed a report last night, they were stopped while filming this morning and taken to a local police station for discussions with officers.

“They have since been asked to leave the country, which they are in the process of doing.”

Update: 16:53BST – ITV News reveals that one of the deported journalists was  ITV News special correspondent Rageh Omaar. He filed this report yesterday.

The Guardian has also covered the story.

Yesterday, Nazeeha and the ITN crew were stopped by police at a checkpoint and briefly detained at Budaiya police station.

This echoes a similar incident at last year’s Formula One when a team working for Channel 4 News (which is produced by ITN) were arrested, detained and deported.

This post will be updated as more information comes in.

Citizen journalist reportedly assaulted by police, pictures deleted

Said Yousif Almuhafda, Head of Monitoring at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, reports on Twitter about an attack against citizen journalist Nader AbdulEmam:

I just talked with blogger @NaderAbdulEmam who was taking pictures as usual when Riot Police stopped him in Jidhafs.

@NaderAbdulEmam stated that Riot Police beat and punched him and cursed him for only taking pictures in one of the villages!

Then he was taken to a checkpoint to see if he’s wanted, they deleted pics from his phone & threatened him with arrest if he took pics again

Our prayers with Formula 1 journalists that they don’t get beaten by Riot police while filming the race like @NaderAbdulEmam

This incident comes 24 hours after a Bahraini journalist and British news team were stopped at a police checkpoint and taken to a police station.

Yesterday, Reporters Without Borders launched a campaign in advance of the F1, titled: “Don’t Leave News Out of the Race” which aims “to draw attention to the government policy of orchestrating disinformation about Bahrain’s street protests and the ensuing crackdown, and to the way news and information have been the crackdown’s collateral victims.”

Sayed Yousif also reports that “27 people were arrested yesterday”. (See also this post on yesterdays arrest of 4 children from Bani Jamra.)

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.

Bahrain journalist & UK news crew stopped & taken to police station

Just after 2:30 pm local time, an ITN news team, along with Bahraini journalist Naziha Saeed and their driver, were stopped at a checkpoint and taken to Budaiya police station.

The detention of the journalists came just hours after Reporters Without Borders launched a campaign in advance of the F1, titled: “Don’t Leave News Out of the Race” (see press release in Arabic). Reporters Without Borders condemned the detention:

(Note: from all current knowledge, none of the individuals taken to the police station were arrested)

At 4:10pm local time, Naziha Saeed tweeted that they have been allowed to leave:

Huffington Post reports that the crew of 5 were in Bahrain on an official visa. A spokesperson for ITV news said:

We can confirm we have an ITV News team in Bahrain on a trip approved by the Bahraini authorities who issued their visas.

They were taken to a local police station after being stopped from filming earlier today. They were not arrested.

After discussions with officers there they have now been allowed to continue with their assignment.

Naziha Saeed, who is a correspondent for France 24 & Monte Carlo, was arrested and tortured in May 2011 at the height of the crackdown, after being summoned to a police station in Rifaa’ for questioning. In November 2012, a policewoman was acquitted on charges of “torture and ill treatment in the course of her duties”. Saeed also filed complaints “alleging torture and mistreatment” against two other members of the security forces, but the authorities have not taken any action against them.

At last year’s Formula One, a team working for Channel 4 News (which is produced by ITN) were arrested, detained and deported, after being pursued by police cars and a helicopter. Their local driver was beaten. Channel 4 News’s foreign correspondent Jonathan Miller describes the incident here.