Bahrain opposition calls for boycott of Formula One race

Bahrain opposition calls for boycott of Formula One race
Fri Apr 4, 2014 19:06:45

Bahrain's Centre for Human Rights has called for a boycott of the Formula One grand prix event in condemnation of Bahraini regime’s continued violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators.

"The campaign is mainly organized by human rights activists who are calling for not just a boycott but a cancellation of the event as there are links between the race and the escalation of human rights violations," Maryam al-Khawaja, the center’s exiled acting president, told Qatari news channel, Al Jazeera, on Friday.

Bahrain has seen pro-democracy demonstrations over the last three years, but the opposition movement lost steam after government’s Saudi-backed forces cracked down on mass protests in the capital, Manama, a month after they started in February 2011. 

The annual Formula One event is due to start on Friday, a day after anti-government demonstrators and police clashed in the town of al-Eker, with police reportedly using tear gas and bird-shots to disperse crowds following the funeral procession of Hussain Sharaf, a pro-democracy activist.

Meanwhile, the main Shia political party al-Wefaq called for a massive pro-democracy march on Friday.

"The presence of journalists to cover the F1 race will be a chance for the people of Bahrain to highlight their grievances and legitimate demands to the international media," al-Wefaq's Secretary General Shaikh Ali Salman said in a statement published on the party's website.

The 2011 uprising in Bahrain forced the cancellation of the race that year, but the event went ahead in 2012 and 2013, despite continuing unrest.

This year's race is due to take place between April 4-6.

"There are [rights] violations all year round but we see it rising before, during and after the race takes place," al-Khawaja said.

This is not the first time the sporting event in the Persian Gulf nation has been called out. Last year, rights activists called on broadcasters like the BBC and Sky not to air the race.

"Last year we focused on people raising awareness about what is happening in Bahrain but this year we sent out nearly 70 letters to the teams taking part in the event as well the sponsors involved," said al-Khawaja.

Maryam al-Khawaja, daughter of the prominent Bahraini dissident Abdulhadi al-Khawaja who is currently serving a life sentence, said that the difference this year is that the event's sponsors actually responded:

"But they gave the usual answer that the event is usually about business and that they don't get involved in the local political situations."


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