(Washington, DC) - The international racing bodies responsible for scheduling Formula One events should take full account of continuing serious human rights violations when they consider rescheduling a 2011 race in Bahrain, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch expressed its concerns in a letter sent jointly to the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA).
The government cancelled the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix, which had been scheduled for March, due to widespread pro-democracy and anti-government protests. On June 3, at a meeting in Barcelona, the FIA is expected to decide whether to reschedule the event for later in the year. Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa recently decreed that martial law, imposed on March 15, would be lifted on June 1, a few days before the FIA meeting.
"Sadly, serious violations like arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, and alleged torture by Bahraini authorities pre-date 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 an environment characterized by large-scale arbitrary arrests, prolonged incommunicado detentions, credible allegations of torture, and mass dismissals of workers, in violation of Bahraini as well as international law. According to recent news reports, those dismissals and arrests include about a quarter of the staff of the government-owned Bahrain International Circuit, the site of the annual Bahrain Grand Prix.
Human Rights Watch noted that Bahrain, rather than halting its abusive practices, has restricted news coverage of protests and the aftermath. It has detained and beaten Bahraini journalists, including some working for international media, such as France 24. Earlier in May, the government expelled the Reuters correspondent Frederik Richter, the only international journalist based in Bahrain in recent years, who had been covering events there since 2008. Since April 20, the government has prevented Human Rights Watch from working in the country.
"International racing officials should ask Bahraini authorities about the fate and well-being of the Bahrain International Circuit staff," Porteous said. "And 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."