F1 advised by Human Rights Watch to quit Bahrain

Fri, 27 May 15:17:00 2011

US-based Human Rights Watch has asked the body governing Formula One to consider the deteriorating rights situation in Bahrain when considering next week whether to reinstate its Grand Prix.

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Bahrain cancelled the prestigious event, was which was to take place in March, after democracy campaigners inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia began their own protest movement in the Gulf Arab state.

"Racing officials should seriously consider the appropriateness of holding a Formula One event this year in Bahrain in light of the scale of human rights violations there," the rights watchdog said in a statement released late on Thursday.

The Sunni Muslim-run government broke up the protest movement in March, declared martial law and launched a crackdown on opposition groups dominated by Shi'ite Muslims, who form a majority in Bahrain, accusing them of links to Shi'ite Iran.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent troops to help Bahrain restore order.

Three months of martial law is due to end on June 1, two days before the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) takes a decision in Barcelona on whether to hold the Bahrain Grand Prix later this year.

Human Rights Watch "questioned whether a successful Formula One event could be held in an environment characterised by large-scale arbitrary arrests, prolonged incommunicado detentions, credible allegations of torture, and mass dismissals of workers."

The government said it released 515 people from detention last week. It says any cases of abuse in detention are isolated, subject to investigation and not official policy.

Bahraini rights activists say they estimate that over 1,000 people remain in detention.

The authorities are holding a series of military trials, which look set to continue after the June 1 end of martial law.

Two protesters have been condemned to death over the killing of two policemen when security forces broke up the protests.

Thousands of Shi'ites have been fired or suspended from jobs in state-run companies and institutions. Human Rights Watch said that includes the staff of the Bahrain International Circuit, where the Bahrain Grand Prix takes place.

Bahrain hopes the end of the emergency law will herald a return to normality that allows leisure and business travellers to return. Opposition and rights figures say they fear repression will continue behind the scenes.

This month U.S. President Barack Obama called on Bahrain, ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa family, to reopen talks with the opposition. He criticised the destruction of Shi'ite mosques during the period of martial law.


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