Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt respond to letter from NGOs

Earlier this week, four NGOs wrote to FIA President Jean Todt and F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, as well as all the teams, sponsors and broadcasters. The letter began:

We write in opposition to Formula One’s plans to hold a Grand Prix in Bahrain this year. If the race goes ahead,it will be taking place in a country whose government continues to commit gross human rights violations, from arbitrary arrests to torture. Bahrain’s jails contain hundreds of political prisoners, police use excessive force with impunity, and opposition members have been stripped of their citizenship. Formula One should rethink its decision to support these practices by choosing to hold their race in Bahrain.

As just reported by the Daily Mail, Guardian and MSN Sport, responses have been received from both Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone. The responses are copied in full below.

From FIA President Jean Todt:

Thank you for your recent email regarding the staging of the FIA Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain.I take note of your concerns, and those expressed by the organizations you are linked to.

The FIA is a sporting and mobility federation, in charge of regulating motor sport worldwide as well as representing more than 80 million motorists in matters of road safety, sustainability and integrated transport systems. It is our firm belief that sport, and the F1 Grand Prix, can have a positive and healing effect in situations where conflict, social unrest and tensions are causing distress.

We thank you once more for your note.

With best wishes

Yours sincerely,
Jean Todt

From Formula One CEO Bernie Ecclestone:

It is a great shame that this was not brought to me before September 2012 when the FIA Formula One World Championship calendar was formed and it is now too late to make any changes to the calendar.

I have not received any complaints from any journalists concerning their accreditation to this year’s event.

Best wishes,

Bernie Ecclestone

Bernie Ecclestone’s line about journalists accreditation refers to a section of the letter where it was noted that last year, the Bahrain government “[denied] entry for journalists who wanted to see the reality on the ground,” and that “Foreign journalists were attacked, arrested, and even deported“. The responses avoided the substance of the letter almost entirely, such as the section relating the sacked and abused Bahraini Formula One workers:

The race is scheduled to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) on 21 April 2013. In 2011, at the height of the government crackdown, many permanent members of BIC staff were dismissed from their jobs, arrested and tortured. To date, there has been no justice for these Formula One workers. By continuing to race on this track, Formula One is facilitating the culture of impunity through which the authorities have operated.

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

 

NGOs write to F1, teams, sponsors and broadcasters

Four NGOs sent a series of letters to Formula One, the teams, sponsors and broadcasters asking them to reconsider their participation in the Bahrain Grand Prix. All the letters can be read at this link.

The letter to sponsors reads in full:

Dear Sponsor and/or Partner of a Formula One team,

We are writing to ask you to withdraw your team sponsorship for the 2013 Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix.
Your corporate social responsibility should surely insist against supporting a race in a country whose
government continues to commit gross human rights violations, from arbitrary arrests to torture. Bahrain’s jails contain hundreds of political prisoners, police use excess force with impunity, and opposition members have been stripped of their citizenship.

Given the global controversy and public outcry, last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix was an embarrassment to all
those who promoted it. The race was used by the Bahrain government to broadcast a false picture of normality to the outside world, whilst also preventing entry to journalists who wanted to see the reality on the ground.

The 2012 race was held under conditions which effectively amounted to martial law. In the weeks preceding it, many activists and protest leaders were arrested, some of whom subsequently spent months in jail. Foreign journalists were attacked, arrested, and even deported. During the weekend of the race, a young man, Salah Abbas Habib, was shot dead by security forces. His body, bearing marks of torture, was dumped on a rooftop.

The situation in Bahrain has not improved since last year. If anything, it is getting worse. The Bahrain
government has made many pledges of reform, but it is doing nothing to implement them. In November 2012, a report by the Project on Middle East Democracy found that only three of the twenty-six recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry have been fully implemented. In the same month, Amnesty International released a report describing the human rights situation in Bahrain as, “Reform shelved, repression unleashed”. In February 2013, Human Rights Watch visited Bahrain and found there to be “no progress on reform”. In the same month, police killed two protesters.

The race is scheduled to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) on 21 April 2013. In 2011, at the height of the government crackdown, many permanent members of BIC staff were dismissed from their jobs, arrested and tortured. To date, there has been no justice for these Formula One workers. By continuing to race on this track, Formula One is facilitating the culture of impunity through which the authorities have operated.

Many people in Bahrain no longer see Formula One as a sport, but as an organisation which supports a
repressive regime. If this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix takes place, the event will certainly be hijacked by the
government for political purposes. There are also serious concerns that the government will unleash further
repression to try and silence critics of the race. Already, there are documented reports that a crackdown has
begun in villages near the track. We urge you to take a stand and cancel your sponsorship arrangements for this race.

Sincerely,

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Press Association (BPA)
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR)
Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)

 

Update: April 16th 2013 – The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has also expressed their support for the letters as a fifth signatory.

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.”

Human Rights Watch reports on security crackdown

Following BCHR’s report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report stating that Bahrain “authorities are carrying out home raids and arbitrarily detaining opposition protesters”. The NGO determined this after speaking to local sources:

The sources told Human Rights Watch that groups of masked, plainclothes police officers have been conducting targeted night-time and dawn raids in the towns around the motor racing circuit. Twenty people, including prominent anti-government protest leaders, have been arrested. Arresting officers have failed to produce arrest, search, or seizure warrants, the sources said, although these are required by Bahraini law. Officials have also denied those detained access to legal assistance during their initial formal interrogation by prosecutors.

(…)

Prosecutors have charged at least two of those arrested with crimes under national security and counterterrorism laws, and authorized their detention for another 60 days while investigations continue. Others, whom prosecutors have charged with participating in illegal gatherings, face another 45 days in detention. In addition to the raids, authorities have detained at least seven people at a series of temporary checkpoints they have established on roads leading to the F1 track. The father of one of those detained told Human Rights Watch that a group of about 10 masked, armed men in civilian clothes arrived at his family’s home in Madinat in the early morning hours of April 3. They said they were police and were looking for his 17-year-old son, whom they arrested and took away. But, the father said, they showed no identification and did not present either search or arrest warrants. Nine marked police cars arrived to back up the masked men, although no uniformed officers left their cars to assist in the arrest.

Local sources say that this raid was similar to others the police have conducted over recent days in localities close to the F1 circuit. In one of the latest, plainclothes police detained a prominent protest leader at his home in Shahrakan at 2 a.m. on April 8.

Human Rights Watch also noted that “protests around the country have increased” which has “resulted in serious injuries to anti-government demonstrators”.

The Bahrain government refuted the claims. Sameera Rajab, the Information Minister and official government spokesperson, said:

We discredit any news of such arrests in recent days or even months. Nobody could be arrested without a warrant. This doesn’t happen in Bahrain.

BCHR expresses “grave concern” over police crackdown

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) reports “escalated security measures, increased house raids and arbitrary arrests of citizens living in villages located near the Bahrain International Circuit”. According to the BCHR:

During the first week of April 2013, 10 youth including minors aging (16 to 25 years) were arrested during house raids, among them, Mohammad Abu-Zuhaira.

Family of one of the prisoners stated that at dawn a police officer along with masked men raided their house and asked to see the ID of one of the family members and asked for him. While the family went to call the person wanted, the masked men followed the family inside the house to the room he was in. They then arrested him without showing an arrest warrant. The family did not know of their son’s whereabouts for 3 days. When the family went to the Hamad Town Police Station asking for him, they denied knowing his whereabouts.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights believes that the escalated house raids and arbitrary arrests of youth in villages near the Bahrain International Circuit is aimed to spread fear and force silence among citizens to minimize protests and any media coverage of the continuous violations by the Bahrain authorities during the F1 Race.