Bahrain’s screeching isn’t over yet
After recently blogging on the controversial Bahrain grand prix, I've just spent the past weekend in Italy listening to the interminable drone of cars at the Monza F1 track.
Blimey. If you happen to like listening to what sounds like giant hornets buzzing away for hours on end, then this little corner of northern Italy is perfect for you. Me, I prefer stapling my hands together …
But then again I'm not a fast-car fan. For many of those who fly Ferrari flags from their houses (plenty do this in Lombardia) the Bahrain race will have been a strange and disconcerting experience. Everyone talking about the protests, the actual race almost side-lined.
It would be interesting, then, to discover whether F1 fans have in any way followed events in Bahrain after the cars and the drivers left Manama two weeks ago. (Maybe not, but then again I doubt so-called "petrolheads" have ever before witnessed their sport enter a political force-field quite as charged as that one).
So, I'm not sure how fanciful it might be to imagine ears pricking up at news that 14 imprisoned activists in Bahrain are to get retrials in civilian courts. Certainly followers of Vettel, Rosberg, Alonso, Button, Hamilton et al may well now be familiar with an additional name - Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the best-known of the jailed men. As the BBC’s Frank Gardner says, Al-Khawaja has effectively become the face of the Bahraini crisis in these past weeks.
Al-Khawaja’s long-running hunger strike (since 8 February) in protest at his imprisonment has set a clock ticking. Every day his case remains unresolved takes him closer to death and adds to pressure on the Bahraini authorities. Last week Amnesty’s Hasiba Hadj Sahraoui accused the Bahraini authorities of “toying” with his life when they postponed the civilian court review of his case from last week to this. Now the dangerous tactics seem to be continuing, with Al-Khawaja and the other detainees being forced to remain in prison ahead of the retrials that were announced in Bahrain’s Court of Cassation today.
Al-Khawaja’s imprisonment was wrong to begin with (he and the others are considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty) and keeping them behind bars is an additional wrong done to them and a dangerous prolongation of Al-Khawaja’s plight (please take action for him and the other detainees).
As a major report from Amnesty recently made clear, after the vicious crackdown on protesters last year, after the torture and the unfair trials (including Al-Khawaja’s), and after a major independent inquiry found multiple failings in how Bahrain behaved, Bahrain’s current performance on human rights is … well, hardly the legal equivalent of a finely-tuned racing car. Bahrain’s image-conscious rulers would have you believe that their Gulf kingdom has turned a corner. It hasn’t. That screeching of tyres you can hear is the sound of a country still spinning dangerously out of control.
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