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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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.