Human Rights First calls on F1 to speak out against raids and arrests

US-based NGO Human Rights First has issued a further statement concerning the Bahrain F1 today, calling on “organisers, participants and sponsors to speak out urgently and publicly against arbitrary arrests and other human rights violations taking place”. The statement reads in part:

“F1’s continued silence in the face of increased government repression ahead of this weekend’s race could easily be seen as the organization’s complicity with the crackdown,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “Local human rights activists can’t understand why the F1 teams and sponsors are not speaking out against the raids, arrests, and detentions that seem to be linked to the race. Their silence is horribly damaging to the reputation of the sport and those associated with it.”

Dooley notes that the F1 organization decided to hold the race in Bahrain this year over the objections of leading human rights figures in the country. In the days leading up to its kickoff, arbitrary arrests in neighborhoods near the track have increased and many human rights defenders have faced added government scrutiny. Local human rights activists estimate that over 60 people have been arrested in the week leading up to the race, many from villages near the track. Several protests have taken place against the F1 and more are expected in the coming days.

The BBC reported that today:

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said 13 people had been arrested and that clashes were continuing in villages close to the Sakhir track, the site of the F1 race.

Debating the Bahrain F1

Earlier today, Ahmed Shihab-Eldin hosted a discussion on the forthcoming Bahrain Grand Prix. The full segment can be watched at the Huffpost Live website.

The guests were:

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.”

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Bernie Ecclestone claims “everything’s very normal” in Bahrain

Speaking to journalists, so-called “F1 Supremo” Bernie Ecclestone said he had “no concerns, none at all” about the forthcoming Bahrain Grand Prix. He continued:

I haven’t had any negative reports from anybody there. Somebody who actually lives there came to see me yesterday and said everything’s very normal.

I think they (both sides) are talking now anyway… so I don’t think they’ll upset the talks by making protests. It didn’t help them last year, so if they had any brains they’d just get on with their talks.

Ecclestone’s comments were challenged by Brian Dooley of Human Rights First, who said:

He must have a strange idea for what normal is. Bahrain remains volatile and its human rights crisis continues.

One issue is whether or not human rights violations might be happening as a result of the race being there. If the regime arrests people in order to intimidate others from peacefully protesting around Formula One, then the organizers, participants, and sponsors really need to say something about that.