Govenment spokesperson calls F1 “a message of friendship and peace from Bahrain to the world”

Bahrain state media reports on comments by Sameera Rajab, Official Government Spokesperson and Minister for Information Affairs:

The minister described this world championship as a message of friendship and peace from Bahrain to the whole world, for it is not only a circuit for sporting competition, but a global gathering place for various nations, cultures and civilizations to meet and have dialogue. The minister highlighted that the event is accompanied by entertainment events, and various artistic shows reflecting the growing international confidence in the political and security stability, as well as the cultural and media openness in Bahrain.

The minister denounced that some foreign media have dealt with the Grand Prix in Bahrain from a purely security perspective, which involves exaggeration, distortion of facts and provoking terror among sports teams, citizens and residents.

The minister stressed that Bahrain is secure and stable and has a pioneering democratic and reformist experience in the region, and has succeeded in organizing this race for nine years in a row since 2004, as well as attaining the International Automobile Federation (FIA) Cup Award for the best organization, and has not witnessed any security, administrative or regulatory problems.

Sameera Rajab was made a Minister in April 2012, straight after last years F1. At the time of her appointment, the Christian Science Monitor described her as having “a track record of stirring up sectarian tensions”, noting that she had described Saddam Hussein as a “martyr” and a “freedom fighter”. She is also a proponent of 9/11 conspiracy theories, having described the terrorist attack as a “fabricated operation” in 2010. She became Official Spokesperson of the Government in November 2012.

Security concerns raised after incident at Financial Harbour

AFP reports:

Bahrain vowed on Sunday to take “appropriate” security measures after a series of explosions raised security fears ahead of the kingdom’s premier international sporting event, the F1 Grand Prix motor race, scheduled for this weekend

The interior ministry said on Monday it would boost security after militants ignited a gas canister in a car in the central commercial district of the capital late on Sunday.

The blast outside the Bahrain Financial Harbour was accompanied by three other explosions on the outskirts of the capital Manama, with the February 14 youth movement claiming responsibility for the attacks, saying it was aimed at disrupting “activity in Manama’s financial centre in opposition to holding the Formula One race”, and pledging “more operations”.

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Officials have downplayed the incident, which the interior ministry has not designated as a “terrorist incident”.

Bahrain “will ensure that appropriate security measures are taken during the F1 race and will take enough measures as in all other countries which host such international sporting events,” government spokeswoman Sameera Rajab said.

“The security situation in Bahrain is very reassuring,” she said, quoted by state news agency BNA.

The violence was condemned by several groups including opposition society Al-Wefaq and US-based NGOs Americans for Human Rights and Democracy in Bahrain and Human Rights First

Human Right First’s Brian Dooley said:

Thankfully no one was injured in these explosions, but there have been casualties in previous violent protests. If these bombings continue, there will inevitably be more injuries and deaths. Such attacks are wrong, increase the polarization in an already deeply divided society, and aren’t the way to achieve democracy in Bahrain.

The February 14 Youth Coalition, an underground opposition movement, are running a campaign against the Formula One which they call “Flame Volcanoes”.

Flame Volcanoes

They posted statement on their Facebook page about the Financial Harbour incident. Their English translation reads:

Urgent: after potting our trust in God, the process of “warning 3” is began amid financial Harbour junction in the capital Manama, in act of popular rejection of “formula 1” racing on our home land occupied by Saudis, including direct support to the bloodshed and continue support crimes against human rights.

A YouTube channel, created on March 28th, purports to show footage from the two previous “warnings”, where cars were driven to locations, doused with petrol, and set aflame.

Damon Hill and Richard Burden MP raise concerns

Speaking to journalists, Damon Hill, former world champion, called on the FIA President Jean Todt to have a clear stance regarding the race:

Jean Todt’s approach has been to say nothing, because otherwise you’re being critical, and I think that is a mistake. Because he’s being used, or the sport is being perceived as being used, by its engagement in the economy and the reputation of the country.

He’s not said anything that has distanced the sport from things that it would find distasteful and upsetting, which I believe everyone in the sport would like to do.

The vast majority of people in the sport would like to say we don’t want to come here to make life worse for people. We would like you to enjoy Formula One. It has lots of positive things to offer. But please don’t, on our behalf, round people up and brutalise them. I don’t see that being political. It’s more ethical than political.

I would not want to go to Bahrain if people are going to be treated extra bad just so a race can go ahead. What we don’t want to have is F1 being responsible for making life worse for people. The question is whether F1, by going to Bahrain, is actually going to enable or further brutal repression.

It’s none of my business what goes on in Bahrain, in many ways. But it is if I’m involved in the sport and that’s my life, and the sport is going to Bahrain.

My view is the sport, and the governing body of the sport, should ensure they’re not being hijacked for the wrong reasons. And I’m not entirely sure they’ve cleared up that point, I have to say

At the same press briefing, motorsport fan and politician Richard Burden MP, who was outspoken about last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, said:

The messages I’m getting from various people in the opposition – and there have been pretty regular street protest over the past three weeks – is that the F1 race will be more of a focus than it was last year. That’s what they anticipate happening.

The quotes [Ecclestone] came out with is that everything will be fine. I just do not buy that. It is not the same evidence that I am hearing. Opinion is not difficult to come by in Bahrain saying either that the race should not go ahead and, if it does, there will be trouble.

If anything happens it will be a tragedy for all concerned. I hope in the next few days that people will understand that words do have an impact.

Bahrain government’s official spokesperson and Information Minister Sameera Rajab criticised Hill, telling the Gulf Daily News:

He (Hill) should see what’s going on in Bahrain for himself, rather than go with what those who have an agenda against Bahrain say.

Coming to Bahrain and seeing what’s going on is better than making statements sitting thousands of miles away.

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.

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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.