Bahrain Crackdown Intensifies in Run Up to F1
Washington, D.C. – The Bahrain regime is targeting human rights activists in the days leading up to this weekend’s F1 Bahrain Grand Prix, according to local human rights defenders who are in contact with Human Rights First. “In the run up to the F1, the regime is targeting and arresting activists across the country. Dozens of people have been detained,” said SaidYousif al-Muhafda of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who was briefly detained himself on Sunday night. The Bahrain Grand Prix was cancelled last year due to political turmoil, but organizers and Bahraini authorities claim that a level of normality has returned to the Kingdom and that it is now appropriate to stage the race. The government crackdown shows little sign of easing up, however. Tomorrow the case of 20 medics targeted by the government after they treated injured protestors and told the international the media the truth about the attacks on demonstrations in February and March 2011 is back in court. The medics were detained, tortured and sentenced to prison terms of between five and 15 years after an unfair trial in a military court. The government continues to press its case against them and many others it perceives to be associated with the democracy protests. Pressure is also building on the regime to release prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi Al Khawja, who has been on hunger strike since Feb.8, and who has been in detention for over a year with other leading dissidents. Al Khawja and the other dissidents were also tortured and sentenced to long prison terms by the unfair military court. Al Khawaja received a life sentence. He has Danish citizenship and the Bahrain regime is under increasing pressure to release him to the Danish authorities. “The regime is pursuing a policy of talking about reform while intensifying repression,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “Its police continue to use excessive force, including attacks with teargas against civilians, while its courts press on with trumped up charges against medics and others. Al Khawaja, the medics, and all the hundreds of other civilians convicted by the unfair military court should have the charges dropped against them immediately and released. Those involved with the F1 – from the teams to the major brand sponsors – have a responsibility to publicly disassociate themselves from the violence of the regime.” The race comes five months after HRH King Hamad of Bahrain received recommendations from a panel of human rights experts he commissioned to investigate human rights violations in the first half of 2011. At the time, he promised to implement them, but reforms have been superficial. In recent months, a small minority of protestors threw petrol bombs and other missiles at police. The security forces continue to crack down on violent and non-violent demonstrations alike. Human Rights First visited Bahrain last month and met more than a dozen young men who reported having been severely beaten by police following peaceful protests. “The regime is trying to lock up protestors and scare the whole country into silence before the F1,” said local human rights defender Zainab Al Khawaja.