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Bahrain: human rights in the pits

As attentive readers of this blog may have noticed (well, very attentive), I’ve made the occasional mention of how I’m often in Italy (Italian girlfriend, I have to keep her happy).

Her place is in the north, not far from Milan. In fact, it’s right outside Monza and … wait for it, very near the Formula One Grand Prix circuit (l’autodromo di Gran Premio di Monza). From the house you can hear the distinctive whining of the cars during tournaments. It’s like living near a bloody hornets’ nest. Madonna!

Though personally I’m no great fan of Formula Uno, in Italy there’s no escaping it. Ferrari flags on peoples’ balconies. Blokes walking round in Ferrari t-shirts. (Yep, Ferrari’s the team that counts in Italy).  

But what to make of the weird slow-motion decision to cancel the Bahrain Grand Prix? To me it tells us one big thing. Pushing ahead with a high-profile sporting event when there’s an ongoing human rights crisis is not going to pass unnoticed. Damon Hill and Mark Webber led the drivers’ pack in voicing criticism, but it seems they spoke for many among the teams as well.

Should the event have been cancelled? Well I’m going to remain agnostic on this. You can argue it both ways. Some say that a country like Bahrain might try to use this kind of event to pretend that the situation is “normal”; others say “no, let it go ahead and we’ll shine a light on the country when it does”.

What I don’t think you can reasonably do is make an artificial divide between sport and “politics” (ie the real world, including unfair trials, shootings, people being tortured etc). The Beijing Olympics, cricket in Zimbabwe, the World Cup in South Africa – like it or not, these all had their human rights component. During Beijing, for example, Amnesty spent a lot of time talking about the appalling human rights situation, including how the torture of prisoners (all too common in China) was hardly in line with the values of the Olympic charter (check out this campaigning animation for example).

So, how bad is it in Bahrain? Well, recently there’ve been horrible reports that some of the 48 medics going on trial have been tortured in detention. We’re talking about doctors and nurses being forced to stand for long periods, deprived of sleep, being beaten with rubber hoses and wooden boards containing nails, and then made to sign “confessions” while blindfolded. They were reportedly warned by their tormentors: “if you don't confess I'll take you to someone who will make you confess”.

Let’s not forget that these are some of the same medics from the Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama who’ve been on the receiving end of the authorities’ wrath for treating wounded people from the Peal Roundabout protests. Meanwhile, in what looks like a shocking excess of official rage, the Bahraini authorities are putting a 20-year-old woman on trial for reading out a poem at a protest rally. The poem was dedicated to Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. (Imagine someone like Carol Ann Duffy ending up at the High Court for reading out some verse at – say – an anti-cuts rally. Crazy).

However you look at it, human rights in Bahrain are the pits. Whether or not there are high-powered motor vehicles screaming round a race track in Manama is not really that relevant to this fact. What matters is that Bahrain stops treating peaceful protestors like criminals and allowing its security forces to intimidate, torture and kill them.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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