Left Photo by Nicholas Kristof December 11, 2011: "This woman says her #Bahrain husband was fired by Formula 1 just for “liking” a protest photo on Facebook."

arabianbusiness.com, Sunday 8 January 2012

Human rights groups have urged Formula One teams to consider boycotting the Bahrain Grand Prix in April amid continued political unrest in the Gulf kingdom.

Bahrain’s season-opening race at Sakhir circuit was postponed last March after widespread political unrest in the country and the deaths of a number of pro-reform demonstrators. Efforts were made to reschedule the race, but the Gulf state was eventually dropped from the 2011 calendar in June after protests from Formula One teams and drivers.

“We will do campaign for….drivers and teams to boycott. The government wants Formula One to tell the outside world that everything is back to normal,” said Nabeel Rajab, vice president for Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

“Formula One, if they come, they are helping the government to say [it is normal]. We would prefer it if they didn’t take part. I am sure the drivers and teams respect human rights.”

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone said in November he would press ahead with plans to return the race to Bahrain and did not believe the Grand Prix would become a focal point for protesters. “It's on the calendar. We'll be there, unless something terrible happens to stop us,” he said.

Bahrain reportedly paid around £25m ($39.2m) in hosting fees for last year’s scrapped three-day race, after refusing an offer of a refund from F1’s Jersey-based parent company, Delta Topco. “They have internal politics and I doubt very much whether they'd use international matters to sort out internal politics,” Ecclestone added.

Thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets in February and March last year demanding curbs on the power of the ruling Al-Khalifa family and an end to perceived discrimination.

The pro-democracy movement was suppressed with the help of military forces brought in from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But small, low-level protests have persisted on an almost daily basis.

Mariwan Hama-Saeed of New York-based Human Rights Watch said F1 should rethink the race in light of a report into the crackdown that found police guilty of using excessive force and torture.

“[The FIA] should consider the serious abuse of human rights in Bahrain and the fact that to this day authorities continue to suppress pro-democracy protests.” Mariwan Hama-Saeed of New York-based Human Rights Watch told Arabian Business.

“I doubt that Formula One can be a success in a country where serious human rights abuses have been committed. The political situation is unstable and polarised in Bahrain. We are very concerned about the government's commitment to implement meaningful reform.”

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Sports champions and Athletes STILL in Jail:

1 Saleh Mahdi, Basketball player for Muharraq club, detained since March 2011, sentenced by military court to 2 years in jail on charges of "illegal gathering".

2 Ali AlMolani, Handball player, university student, arrested from a checkpoint for having a text message in his phone "They have attacked lulu". Sentenced sentenced by military court to 3 years in jail for "illegal gathering".

3-4 Mohamed and Ali Salman, Handball players, of the national team. Each sentenced sentenced by military court to 15 years in prison for allegedly burning down a farm owned fy a royal family member.

5 Mohamed Ali Jawad AlFardan, a beach handball player, was given 15 years by the military court for allegedly burning down burning down a farm owned fy a royal family member.

6 Mohamed AlKhunaizi, (40 yrs old) Cars Drag race champion, arrested 16 Sep 2011 from funeral of a martyr, sentenced 2 years in jail for "illegal gathering"

7 Mohamed Mirza, (37 years old) , Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) trainer and award winner, arrested 16 March 2011 from a checkpoint. He was accused of kidnapping policeman, sentenced by a military court to 15yrs imprisonment.

8 Sayed Hadi Nasser Alawi, (21 years old) , Bahrain Racing Marshall who was active in all F1 races in Bahrain, participated in UAE F1 2010. Arrested 27 March 2011. Accused of murder and illegal gathering. Sentenced by a military court to life.

Imprisoned athletes in Bahrain