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BAHRAIN: Human rights group cautions against return of Formula One

May 26, 2011 |  5:47 pm

International racing authorities scheduling Formula One events should consider alleged human rights violations before they reschedule a 2011 race postponed in Bahrain after a massive uprising against the Gulf state's monarchy in February, New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thursday in a letter to the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile and the Formula One Teams Assn.

The Bahraini government canceled the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix, which had been scheduled for March, due to widespread pro-democracy protests.

FIA officials are expected to decide whether to reschedule the event during a meeting in Barcelona on June 3.

Bahrain’s King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa recently announced that martial law would be lifted two weeks early on June 1, just in time for the FIA meeting.

“Sadly, serious violations like arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, and alleged torture by Bahraini authorities predate the imposition of martial law in mid-March,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “There is little reason to think that ending martial law on June 1 will make much difference in Bahrain’s menacing human rights climate.”

Human Rights Watch questioned whether a successful Formula One event could be held in Bahrain, given the ongoing government campaign of arbitrary arrests, detentions and alleged torture. According to recent news reports, a quarter of the staff of the government-owned Bahrain International Circuit, the site of the annual Bahrain Grand Prix, have been arrested or dismissed in recent weeks.

Human Rights Watch noted that Bahraini officials have responded to "Arab Spring" protests by restricting news coverage, detaining and beating Bahraini journalists.

The Bahraini government has also prevented Human Rights Watch from working in the country since April 20, the group said in the statement.

“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,” Porteous said.


-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo