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Fri 4 Apr 2014 02:07 PM

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Fears Bahrain will crackdown on anti-gov't protesters at F1

Human rights group Amnesty International has urged Bahraini authorities to allow peaceful protests at the grand prix this weekend

Fears Bahrain will crackdown on anti-gov't protesters at F1
(Photo for illustrative purpose only)

Human rights organisation Amnesty International has called on Bahraini authorities not to quash peaceful anti-government protests at the Formula One this weekend.

Thousands of international guests are expected to attend the F1 Grand Prix on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and Amnesty International says it fears authorities will crackdown on activists using the event to draw attention to their calls for political reform.

The island kingdom has been marred by sometimes violent protests since early 2011, as the Shia majority call for reform of the country, which is ruled by the Sunni Al Khalifah dynasty.

Amnesty International said authorities had previously taken “severe repressive measures” against anti-government demonstrators and it feared recent unrest, including attacks on police, would be used to justify restrictions during the Grand Prix, such as preventing people from leaving their villages and preventing even peaceful protests.

During previous F1 events, foreign and local journalists have been barred from covering protests, with some allegedly deported for attempting to film or photograph activists.

“Bahrain’s authorities must not repeat past mistakes by restricting freedom of movement or crushing protests. The rights of people in Bahrain to peacefully to express their opposition to government policies and voice human rights concerns are legitimate and must be respected,” Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Programme deputy director Said Boumedouha said.

"Rather than continuing to resort to security measures to deal with anti-government protests, Bahrain’s authorities should mark the Grand Prix by announcing concrete steps to address the dire state of human rights in the country.

“Three years on from the 2011 uprising, Bahrain has seen only cosmetic changes and empty promises of reform. Arbitrary arrests, crackdowns on protests and torture in custody continue unabated.

“Using the Grand Prix to boost Bahrain’s public image is little more than a blatant attempt to gloss over mounting abuses with the hype of an international sporting event.”

Boumedouha said opposition activists calling for a boycott of the Grand Prix had been labelled by the government as “traitors”.

However, in a statement on Tuesday, pro-government group Citizens for Bahrain said opposition calls for the Grand Prix to be cancelled were hypocritical because they used the international attention to highlight their case.

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It claimed the event was a much-needed contributor to the economy and protests threatened to negatively impact its success.

“A major problem for the opposition is that the Formula One is so important for Bahrainis. An event watched by around 515 million people all round the world is a great thing for putting our country on the map,” the group said in a statement.

“The estimated $300m in revenue that the event brings in supports around 3,000 jobs across the kingdom.

“For the past ten years the Formula one has acted as a safety net for Bahrain’s economy and has also helped reduce youth unemployment; hundreds of seasonal jobs are created during race season that mainly held by Bahraini youth.

“It is highly hypocritical for the protest movement to claim they are fighting for better economic prospects while seeking to block the single most lucrative event of the past ten years for Bahrain’s economy, which depends largely on tourism, the hospitality sector and international visitors.”

The Bahrain F1 was cancelled in 2011 due to the unrest.

While the 2012 event went ahead, it was tainted by the death of protester Salah Abbas Habib, 37, who was shot dead by security forces.

No one has been found guilty of his death, with a policeman last November acquitted due to a lack of evidence and contradictory testimonies from witnesses.

Separately, Nafeesa Al Asfoor, 31, and Rayhana Al Mousawi, 38, are on trial charged with intent to commit terrorist acts and possession of explosives after they attempted to enter the F1 circuit to protest against the imprisonment of political activists.

Al Mousawi already has been sentenced to five years in prison for being linked to the 14 February Coalition, a youth movement which was named a terrorist organisation in March.

The women have claimed they were tortured and mistreated during interrogation and were forced to sign confessions, which they later withdrew.

Amnesty International is calling for a “thorough and independent” investigation into the women’s torture allegations and for those responsible to be brought to justice.

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