Human rights groups call for Bahrain F1 race to be cancelled

Groups send letter to F1's administration saying not enough is being done to uphold human rights commitments

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's German driver Nico Rosberg drives over the finish line of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in the desert south of the Bahraini capital, Manama, on April 3, 2016. (ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's German driver Nico Rosberg drives over the finish line of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in the desert south of the Bahraini capital, Manama, on April 3, 2016. (ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)

The Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bahrain should be cancelled unless it can uphold its human rights commitments, according to human rights groups in a letter made public on Thursday.

The letter, addressed to Formula 1's administration, has been signed by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), Article 19, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB).

The Bahrain Grand Prix, which is due to be held later this month, was first cancelled in 2011, when the Government of Bahrain declared a state of martial law following pro-democracy protests.

The race returned in 2012 but the human rights groups said in the letter that “human rights violations have been a common occurrence during Formula 1 Grand Prix races in Bahrain".

The 2016 Grand Prix was marked by the death of 17-year-old Ali Abdulghani, who was critically injured during his arrest in Shahrakan village, located within three miles of the Bahrain International Circuit.

He died on April 4, 2016, a day after the Grand Prix weekend concluded.

The rights groups argued that not enough is being done ahead of the race. “Formula 1 cannot stand by in view of the deteriorating situation in Bahrain, the likelihood of further incidents in the run-up to the race and while those who negotiated in good faith with you are imprisoned and their relatives victimized for their work,” the letter said.

It added: "In light of the deteriorating human rights situation and F1’s inability to guarantee against the abuses which accompanied the past two Grand Prix circuits in Bahrain, F1 should cancel all its events there in 2017.”

“Arbitrary arrests always increase when the race is held, and many of those arrested are then tortured and unfairly prosecuted,” said BIRD’s Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei. "Formula 1 should not forget their responsibility to ensure the safety of the people of the host country. If Formula 1 cannot do that, then the Grand Prix should not go to Bahrain."

Husain Abdulla, executive director, ADHRB, added: “Two years after reaching an agreement with F1 we have serious doubts whether they are really taking their human rights policies seriously.

"Independent reports of human rights violations and the adverse effects of the race on the overall human rights conditions have been shared with the F1 administration, yet we’ve seen no serious actions taken, not even the implementation of their own human rights policy. This is deeply troubling because Bahrain’s oppressive regime uses the Grand Prix as a PR tool to whitewash its human rights abuses.”

A Bahrain government spokesperson was quoted by Reuters as saying the country had implemented "a range of institutional and legal reforms over recent years, in close collaboration with international governments and independent experts".

"As a result of these efforts, Bahrain now has a number of internationally recognised safeguards in place to ensure human rights abuses do not occur."

The spokesperson added that Bahrain was "entirely compliant and proactively participates" with Formula One's defined human rights policy.

"Like other Formula One host nations, Bahrain will work alongside the organisation to help support these commitments, and the Kingdom welcomes the opportunity to demonstrate its own highly significant strides as part of this process."

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