1 April 2016, London – As the 2016 Bahrain Formula One race is set to take centre stage this weekend, The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) writes to the President of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), Jean Todt, calling for immediate action to tackle the adverse human rights impacts caused by the race. BIRD calls on the FIA to implement the UN Guidelines for Business and Human Rights requirements after it failed to mitigate the circumstances in which human rights abuses occur during the race in Bahrain. These failings place the integrity of the FIA and motor sport at large at risk.
The letter comes ahead of the Bahrain races this weekend, which will be held amid renewed activist movements and planned protests in the country. There have been protests recorded over the past two weeks calling for democracy and carrying anti-F1 slogans.
The letter further calls for an independent investigation into these failings that have led to at least one death during the 2012 race in Bahrain and dozens of arrests since then that have led to torture. No one was ever held to account for Salah Abbas’s 2012 killing, nor for any act of force and torture.
Human rights abuses are worsening in the country especially in the last 2 weeks as police renew crackdown ahead of race. In summary
- 57 arbitrary arrests took place in the two weeks preceding the race.
- On 14 March, human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja and her 15-month-old son were arrested to serve a succession of prison sentences. Al-Khawaja was sentenced to three years and one month in prison on a litany of charges related to her freedom of speech.
- Over 3500 political prisoners are in jail, a number that increases year by year. Mostly charged with participating in protests and free expression which the government equates with “terrorism”.
- Reports of torture continue.
- Over 260 people have been arbitrarily stripped of their nationality and some have been forcibly deported.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD): “In the past five years, severe human rights violations have been committed during the race authorised by the FIA. These include arbitrary arrests, torture and killings. Until now, the FIA have shirked responsibility and failed to use their leverage. We want to remind them of their responsibilities, which means being prepared to cancel the race if necessary to prevent serious rights abuses.”
In correspondence between Jean Todt and BIRD in 2014, the president of the FIA told the NGO that he associated himself “fully” with the decision to go ahead with the 2012 race, as well as the 2013 and 2014 races. At the time, he stated that the sport “can and must be an instrument for development and reconciliation” but failed to suggest any practical measures to achieve these notions.
Since 2011, Bahrain has continued to target peaceful dissenters. The Government of Bahrain has employed torture and arbitrary detention on a systemic scale. NGOs including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and BIRD find that these problems have persisted throughout 2015 and into 2016. Such human rights violations are notably heightened during the Bahrain Formula One season as authorities’ attempt to stamp out all forms of opposition around the race. In 2011, the race was cancelled amid widespread protests and severe human rights violations.
Large demonstrations opposed the race when it returned in 2012 and authorities responded with an excessive security clampdown against peaceful protesters. Security checkpoints were set up throughout the country, villages were cordoned off and in many cases enclosed using barbed wire.
On the eve of the race, Salah Abbas, a father of five, was found murdered with brutal signs of physical torture all over his body. His corpse was found dumped on a building rooftop. No member of the security forces has ever been held accountable for his death, nor have the FIA conducted an investigation into the circumstances of his death in relation to the race.
The next year, in 2013, the human rights situation showed no signs of improving as Bahrain’s security forces arrested and imprisoned dozens of individuals for protesting during the race. Rihanna Al-Mousawi was imprisoned after protesting during the race. She alleges that police subjected her to various types of torture and degrading treatment during detention. During her pre-trial detention, she was stripped of her clothes twice and threatened with rape. She remains in prison serving a 5-year sentence.