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.

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NGOs launch campaign to highlight human rights abuses in Bahrain

A group of NGOs, led by Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), launched a campaign to “raise awareness of the ongoing human rights abuses in Bahrain”. From the press release:

ADHRB and participating organizations sent a letter to Formula One drivers asking them to pledge their support for a free and just Bahrain by publicly condemning the ongoing human rights abuses. Drivers are encouraged to state their support during interviews at the Grand Prix, publish a statement on their website, express their solidarity via social media, or publicly dedicate their race to one of the many prisoners of conscience still imprisoned in Bahrain.

“While in Bahrain, we hope that participants of the Bahrain Grand Prix will take the time to learn about the ongoing human rights abuses and arbitrary detention of prisoners of conscience,” said ADHRB Director Husain Abdulla. “Although the President of Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone, said that he received reports that everything is back to normal in Bahrain, it is clear that his information comes from unreliable sources,” Abdulla added. “The truth is that the Bahrain government has been engaged in many of the same abuses that the international community condemned it for after Bahrain’s security forces launched a brutal crackdown against peaceful protests in 2011.”

The letter was signed by ADHRB, along with International Federation for Human RightsFreedom HouseHuman Rights First, Just Foreign PolicyPhysicians for Human Rights, and the Project on Middle East Democracy. It includes a table with details on some of Bahrain’s prisoners of conscience. Drivers are invited to: “publicly dedicate your race to one of the many prisoners of conscience held under lock and key for exercising their rights to free speech, expression, association, and assembly.”

Alongside the letter, the NGOs also launched a Twitter campaign, encouraging people to tweet to the drivers, teams and other relevant people using the hashtag #ReformsF1rst. A spreadsheet of Twitter handles is available to download at this link.

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.