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Formula One race held in Bahrain amid severe government crackdown

A protester (C) holds a placard shaped like a Formula One car as he participates in an anti-government rally organised by main opposition group Al Wefaq in Budaiya on 19 April 2013
A protester (C) holds a placard shaped like a Formula One car as he participates in an anti-government rally organised by main opposition group Al Wefaq in Budaiya on 19 April 2013

REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

The Formula One (F1) race was held in Bahrain yesterday [20 April 2013] amid a sweeping government crackdown, including dozens of arrests and a large number of injuries. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) is seriously concerned about the victims of these attacks at the hands of security forces.

BCHR has documented numerous cases of shotgun pellet injuries, as well as injuries sustained from direct hits from teargas canisters; many areas throughout Bahrain have been indiscriminately blanketed with teargas as a form of collective punishment.

On the day of the race, BCHR documented 16 arrests related to protests in the small town of Jidhaf alone and 10 house raids throughout the towns of Sanabis, Jidhaf, and Aldaih. This repression was typical across the country, and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) reports that, within the period of time between 18 April and 21 April 2013, it documented a total of 96 arrests including 12 children, with 21 individuals later released.

Two years ago, the Formula One race was cancelled in Bahrain because of the violence surrounding the government's crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. Last year it went forward amid much criticism and a heavy security presence that led to one protester being shot and killed by the police. This year, the streets of Bahrain were filled with tens of thousands of peaceful protesters demanding the cancellation of the race.

BCHR has received a large number of injury reports from across the country as a result of direct hits from tear gas canisters, shotgun pellets and tear gas inhalation. These individuals are forced to seek treatment in private homes out of fear of police brutality at the hospitals. Jajjar Jassim, from Sitra, was arrested yesterday [20 April 2013] when he went to the Etihad hospital for treatment.

BCHR recently released a report on the militarization of the Bahraini medical system.

The government crackdown also included the illegal and indiscriminate use of tear gas against ordinary citizens. In this video, the security forces are seen firing tear gas canisters directly at three unarmed women walking down the street. The practice of firing canisters directly at individuals is illegal and has lead to several deaths in Bahrain since the pro-democracy movement started in 2011. The targeting of these women demonstrates the indiscriminate manner in which collective punishment is applied against ordinary citizens.

In an attempt to hide such abuses, the government deported several foreign journalists who were covering protests in one of the villages. The British ITV team was on assignment with the proper visas in place, according to the network, when they were detained at a police station and then deported.

President and CEO of Formula One Management and Formula One Administration Bernie Ecclestone said over the weekend that Bahrain was 'stupid' to host the race. This letter from Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain and other NGOs, and this letter from another group of NGOs including BCHR, explains in detail the reasons for opposition to the race, and calls for an end to the race in Bahrain as it represents a show of international support for a regime that continues to commit widespread human rights abuses.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands:

  • An immediate end to the government's repression and the excessive use of force against demonstrators;
  • An investigation into the injuries suffered by protesters, and the demilitarisation of the medical system so that citizens can seek medical care without fear.
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