ADHRB Calls for Accountability and Human Rights Protection during the Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain

6 April 2018 – In advance of the Formula One Grand Prix race in Sakhir, Bahrain on 8 April 2018, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) wishes to draw attention to the human rights violations that have occurred during Formula One over the past years. ADHRB calls for Formula One to ensure that these human rights violations do not occur again and that the Grand Prix will be held in an environment which fully respects human rights, particularly freedom of expression and assembly.

Since 2004, the Formula One Grand Prix Race has been held every year in Bahrain, with the exception of 2011, due to the national state of emergency following the violent suppression of peaceful political protests. Despite continued human rights violations, the Grand Prix returned to Bahrain the following year in April 2012.

Since its return, the Bahrain Grand Prix has continued to take place in the context of oppression and human rights violations. In 2012, a father of five, Salah Abbas was shot dead by the police after taking part in a peaceful demonstration. Abbas is one of many examples of repression the government of Bahrain inflicts on its citizens. The Government of Bahrain continues to repress civil society by detaining human rights defenders, journalists, and silencing political opposition. In 2016, 17-year-old Ali Abdulghani was severely injured during his arrest, and later died of these injuries on 4 April. Some witnesses reported that security forces struck him twice with their vehicle while attempting to affect his arrest. Other instances of human rights abuses occurred during the Grand Prix in April 2017, including the use of tear gas against protesters and the targeting of free expression.

The government of Bahrain has also prohibited international journalists from covering human rights abuses. In 2012, 22-year-old videographer and journalist Ahmed Ismail Hassan was shot to death by Bahraini security forces while covering protests around the Formula One Grand Prix. Witnesses state that he was shot because authorities saw his video equipment. In 2011, Bahraini authorities targeted journalist Nazeeha Saeed and subjected her to torture after she covered police brutality during protests. In March 2016, the Bahraini authorities refused to renew her press credentials with foreign media outlets, seemingly as retribution for her previous coverage. They also subjected her to a travel ban in June 2016. This environment encourages and facilitates attacks on the free press. The journalists traveling to Sakhir, Bahrain for the Formula One Grand Prix race in 2017 were required to sign a form that states they would only cover the Grand Prix or risk losing their visa.

The Grand Prix has transformed into an excuse for Bahraini authorities to arrest peaceful protesters in a violent manner and silence dissent. Despite the past documentation of human rights violations, Formula One still chooses to work with the Special Security Force Command (SSFC) from the Ministry of Interior (MoI). The SSFC and MoI work with Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa to coordinate security for the race. Activists have reported that the SSFC have been present and engaged in repression of demonstrations in the context of the Grand Prix when human rights violations have occurred, and all arrests during protests surrounding the Grand Prix were undertaken by MoI forces.

ADHRB has reached out to participants of the Formula One Grand Prix race. On 6 February 2018 ADHRB sent a letter to drivers and teams explaining the past and current human rights abuses connected to the race, and asked them to use their role in the race to ensure that human rights are protected during this time. ADHRB sent similar letters and requests to the sponsors of the Formula One Grand Prix on 7 February 2018. Carlos Santana is scheduled to perform before the race on Friday 6 April 2018. ADHRB wrote a public letter  to him on 7 March 2018, explaining the ongoing human rights abuses connected to the Formula One Grand Prix race and encouraging him to use his platform to promote human rights in Bahrain. At the time of writing, ADHRB has received no response from drivers, teams, sponsors, or Mr. Santana..

 “The Formula One Grand Prix event in Bahrain has taken place in the context of human rights violations year after year, as we’ve seen continued crackdowns on free assembly, and free expression,” says Husain Abdulla, Executive Director at ADHRB. “The Bahraini government’s targeting of protesters and members of the press is deplorable, and is a direct contradiction of the Formula One Statement of Commitment to Respect for Human Rights. Formula One’s decision to continue to partner with the MoI and SSFC despite the human rights abuses they have perpetrated calls that Commitment into question.”

ADHRB calls on Formula One to fully investigate all allegations of human rights abuses surrounding the Grand Prix, and to reconsider their partnership with Bahraini institutions which commit these abuses, particularly the SSFC and the MoI. We also call on all race participants to highlight the human rights situation in Bahrain while they participate in the Grand Prix, and to hold their race partners accountable for their actions.