Ticket burning protest in Sitra on eve of race

Footage of a protest in Sitra tonight where demonstrators burned an F1 ticket:

Protesters have been burning F1 tickets in opposition to the race for several weeks. Some examples from April 9th can be seen at this link.

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Protesters marching to site of Pearl Square reportedly teargassed

Two pictures, taken within the last hour, reportedly show protesters attempting to march to the former site of Pearl Roundabout (map) and then subsequently being attacked by tear gas. This post will be updated as more details come in.

Pearl Roundabout (aka Pearl Square) was occupied by pro-democracy demonstrators in February and March 2011 until government forces violently removed the people and demolished the monument. Now referred to by the opposition as Martyrs’s Square, it is under tight military control. Yesterday, the February 14th Youth Coalition called for a march to the site, beginning at 3pm local time. Maryam AlKhawaja, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, tweeted earlier: “According to people on the ground, huge security presence in villages close to what was Pearl Square in an attempt to prevent march.”

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PearlSquare_March_Teargas_20-4-2013(Pictures via @ahmedali_)

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.

Opposition societies “Protest for Democracy”

At 4pm local time, an authorised protest organised by opposition societies began on Budaiya Highway. The societies have held daily mass protests for democracy since last Friday. The BBC reported that “tens of thousands of anti-government protesters” demonstrated today. Footage of the march:

The largest opposition society Al Wefaq tweeted the following images of today’s march:

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A family prepare for the march:

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A protester dressed as a detained medic, holds up a rose and shows that he is “sumood” (steadfast), despite being in handcuffs:

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Meanwhile, just as the march was taking place, masked police arrived in Sanad, a village near to the Bahrain International Circuit:

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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.

Simeon Kerr meets opposition activists in Sitra

Financial Times journalist Simeon Kerr writes about his recent time on the island of Sitra, often considered the heart of the revolution against Bahrain’s ruling monarchy:

The tiny island of Sitra is home to just 40,000 people out of Bahrain’s 1.2m population and most of its residents live in just seven villages. Its youth have joined with other rebels across the country under the umbrella of the February 14 movement, a radical opposition group.

(…)

Fourteen people from Sitra have died during the unrest of the past two years.

One of the most disturbing images of the revolt, the gaping skull of Ahmed Farhan who was shot at point blank range at Sitra’s petrol station in March 2011, looms large in the room in which Hussain is staying.“When we see brains splattered on the ground, how can we believe that this regime will reform?” he says.

The youths, who hang on Hussain’s every word as they gather on tatty mattresses in a modest home, seem in no mood for compromise. “The martyrs opened the road for us, they are our guide,” says Hussain, to murmurs of approval.

Of Sitra’s seven villages, perhaps the most rebellious is Mohazza. It was under siege for a week last December as the police blocked entrances in an effort to smoke out protesters.

Police raids are now a daily fixture of life in Mohazza, residents say. Families have installed metal doors to protect them from security force raids. “They can still break through, but at least we can hear them trying to get in,” says Hussain.

After the December siege, Hussain left Sitra. Now, he flits between friends’ houses as he goes into his 23rd month on the run since being summoned to a civil court for questioning for attacks on policemen. He has no intention of turning himself in.

“If I go back, they will force a confession on another crime, so I prefer to stay in hiding,” he says.

During a previous visit to a police station, he saw prisoners forced to recount eulogies to the king, while enduring beatings on the soles of their feet and being hanged upside down for hours.

“It was like a hospital, people were limping around, one man had his fingers cut,” he says.

Read full article.