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Mar 31 2019

Formula One 2019- Sakhir

I hate writing about Bahrain. It’s among the most odious and repressive places they race and they race in some pretty odious and repressive places. I’ll try and make the History as short as possible.

After Mohammed died there was this big Civil War between followers of his nephew and those of some random Warlord. The Warlord won, in the sense it can be said there was a winner- “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”. Caliph got Mecca and Medina (useless pieces of rock according to Thomas Edward) and a bunch of sand floating on oil and after a relatively short period they dominated 3 quarters of the Mediterranean and were banging on the gates of Tours and Vienna in the West and in the East were consolidating swaths of Central and Southwestern Asia. Pretty badass, huh?

And then there’s Persia. An old and powerful empire, they supported the nephew (who I think had a much stronger claim). They don’t call it the Persian Gulf for nothing, in every region the Gulf touches the Persian affiliated population is a huge majority.

But there was a Civil War and the nephew lost and the Caliph installed oppressive minority puppet governments in these coastal provinces because he feared Persian influence.

The Sunnis are repressive brutes, as you would expect from rampant Wahhabism (Shia do their own kind of snake handling, I assure you) and a leader who thinks he can get away with ordering a hit on a Journalist he doesn’t like, sending his personal Pathologist to carve up the body with a Bone Saw!

No Quid Pro Quo? Mohhamed bin Salman at Jared’s request instituted an embargo of Qatar, a close U.S. Military Ally (we have a major base there), to blackmail them into bailing Kushner out of his disastrous 666 Fifth Ave. investment.

But wait… there’s more!

We now learn that MBS used Saudi Intelligence assets to monitor Jeff Bezos and gave, through their connections with the Unindicted Co-conspirator Bottomless Pinocchio, the tip to the National Enquirer that led to them to pay the brother of Bezos’ paramour to steal the pictures from her cell phone so that David Pecker could use them to blackmail Bezos into getting the WaPo to lighten up on MSB (who ordered his employee killed) and (oh, yeah, also) Unidicted Co-conspirator Bottomless Pinocchio.

Aggressive Public Relations.

Has it gotten any better in Bahrain since 2011 and 2012 when brave pro-Democracy demonstrators piled up tire barricades and set them on fire so the Drivers could not fail to notice as they made their way to the track?

No.

Every moment I spend in prison in Bahrain stains the reputation of F1
byNajah Yusuf, The Guardian
Wed 27 Mar 2019, The Guardian

I am a civil servant from Bahrain. I write from Isa Town prison, 22km away from the Bahrain International Circuit, which hosts Formula One’s annual grand prix. This weekend, fans of Formula One will flood into Bahrain, brimming with anticipation for this year’s race. The grand prix is an international sporting spectacle and a symbol of wealth and glamour, particularly for Bahrain’s ruling family.

However, for me and my fellow Bahraini citizens, it is nothing but an annual reminder of our suffering in our fight against tyranny and repression.

Just 4km away from the airport where many excited fans will arrive is Muharraq police station, home to Bahrain’s notorious National Security Agency (NSA). In April 2017, a week after Sebastian Vettel took to the podium to celebrate his victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix, the most horrific experience of my life began.

For four days, I was relentlessly interrogated because of Facebook posts, including those that called for the race to be cancelled and for the release of others imprisoned for criticising Formula One. I was lured to the Muharraq police station, under the pretence of signing a statement on behalf of my son.

When I arrived, the questions began. They forcibly took my phone away from me, threatening to kill my son when I refused to unlock it. They asked me about my relationships with various human rights defenders, activists and opposition groups.

They threatened to kill me, they tried to bribe me, they beat me. But worst of all, officers tore off my hijab and attempted to strip me of my clothes, before an officer sexually assaulted me in custody. The pain and humiliation of that week will haunt me for the rest of my life. All this because I took a stand against state repression and the grand prix.

On the fifth day, I could take it no more. I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. I wanted it to end. Officers presented me with a prepared confession to sign. While I was reading it, the officers beat me again and threatened to rape me. So I signed it.

In this emotionally traumatised condition I found myself in front of a public prosecutor, who had no interest in my ordeal. Without the presence of a lawyer, I, again, signed the prepared confession presented to me.

A year later, I was convicted and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. My court ruling states that I was guilty of defaming the state, hurting its interests and distorting the image of the kingdom abroad. As evidence of my supposed crimes, the judge cited a Facebook post criticising Formula One. In Bahrain, this is considered a threat to national security.

What hurt me the most when the sentence was passed was not only the feeling of injustice, but the judge’s acceptance of the testimony of an NSA officer who witnessed the abuses during my interrogation. At that point it became clear that the Bahraini justice system is not only corrupt, but allows its officers to torture and violate citizens with total impunity.

Since I arrived at Isa Town prison, my suffering has only continued. Prison authorities regularly discriminate against me on account of my status as a political prisoner. Last September, my cellmate and fellow political prisoner Hajer Mansoor was hospitalised following an assault by prison guards. An early day motion in the British parliament identified this assault as being led by the head of Isa Town prison, Lieutenant Colonel Mariam Albardoli. This occurred days after Hajer Mansoor’s son-in-law, Sayed Alwadaei, briefed MPs about our cases. We were subsequently cited by an MP in the British parliament, along with our cellmate Medina Ali.

Since then, all inmates have been punished collectively because I had the temerity to speak out, with restrictions on our family visits, phone calls and time outside the cell. The prison authorities want to silence us, but we will not stop protesting at the appalling conditions at Isa Town prison, which were recently condemned by the UN.

I am a mother of four, but I have not seen my children for the past six months. The same punishment has been inflicted on my cellmates, Hajer and Medina. The situation breaks my heart, but I count myself lucky compared to others.

The five children of activist Salah Abbas will never see their father again, as he was killed during protests on the eve of the 2012 Grand Prix. That same year, a 22-year-old photojournalist Ahmed Ismail Hassan who was covering protests against the race was also killed. Police have regularly crushed peaceful protests with violence over the years.

Although I am still paying for my decision to take a stand against the grand prix, my stance has not changed. For years, the ruling family has used the race to clean up its international reputation and whitewash its disregard for human rights. During this period, Formula One has consistently ignored the abuses that occur.

In 2017, I backed the calls for “freedom for Formula detainees”. I never thought I would become one of them. Every moment I spend in prison stains the reputation of Formula One, who have abandoned their commitment to freedom of expression and allowed injustice to be perpetrated in their name.

Despite the fervour of excitement, I implore all fans of Formula One to remember my story and the suffering of thousands of Bahraini citizens. Don’t allow the race to be stained by Bahrain’s human rights abuses.

Call for F1 champion Lewis Hamilton to help jailed Bahraini activist Najah Yusuf
by Giles Richards, The Guardian
Wed 27 Mar 2019

Human rights groups are demanding the cancellation of Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix if Formula One is not allowed to investigate the abuse and imprisonment of activist Najah Yusuf.

Campaigners also warned they would escalate their protest by demanding all drivers – and world champion Lewis Hamilton in particular – should address the matter of protestors being jailed for criticising the race and regime.

Lord Scriven, who has been active on Yusuf’s behalf for Human Rights Watch, has been assured by Sacha Woodward-Hill, the general counsel to F1, that the sport will conduct an independent investigation into her case. The Liberal Democrat peer was unequivocal that F1 should be held accountable if the sport fails to honour its commitment to the protesters.

“If F1 does not act we have to speak to people like Lewis Hamilton,” he said. “We have to look him in the eyes and say: ‘Lewis, is it appropriate to earn millions of pounds and stand on a podium that could be on the back of Najah? Less than 24km away somebody is in prison being abused. You, Lewis, have a moral responsibility if your leadership will not take it.’

“You cannot win world titles on the back of human rights abuses and stand in countries that abuse people without realising you have a moral responsibility.”

Yusuf’s case is the latest in a string of accusations of imprisonment and abuse surrounding the Bahrain GP. In 2011, it was cancelled after mass human rights protests in the Gulf state. A year later the race went ahead despite tens of thousands of anti-government protesters flooding a highway to demand its cancellation. It has remained a volatile event ever since.

On Wednesday Human Rights Watch and the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy were among 15 signatories to a letter sent to the FIA president, Jean Todt, demanding Yusuf’s immediate release.

Scriven insisted the race should be cancelled if F1 is prevented from looking into Yusuf’s case. “They should be allowed in with a lawyer to ask Najah questions as part of their investigation,” he said.

“If the government denies that, it should be enough for F1 to say: ‘We are not racing on Sunday.’ We are talking about systematic human rights abuses around F1 that have been going on predominantly since 2012. It is not acceptable a sport can continue to do this. If the authorities say ‘no’, F1 should not go ahead with the race. The Bahrain authorities need to know this is not a game. This is individuals’ lives.

A statement for the Bahrain regime this month said Yusuf had been convicted of “terror offences” unrelated to the grand prix yet noted the mother of four had written: “No to Formula races on occupied Bahraini land,” and that F1 in Bahrain was “nothing more than a way for the [ruling] al-Khalifa family to whitewash their criminal record and gross human rights violations”.

“I was surprised they had asked no one apart from the Bahrainian government what had happened,” Scriven said. “That is like asking only the perpetrator of domestic violence – even though there are other witnesses – to give assurances it didn’t happen. It is nonsense.” Bahraini government, meanwhile, insists no one is detained for expressing political views.

The letter to Todt emphasises why human rights organisations are demanding action. It read: “The Bahraini government uses such events, and the lack of global concern about such abuses, to sanitise, or sports-wash, its image abroad while continuing to abuse its citizens domestically.”

Human rights groups urge F1 to act over jailed Bahraini activist Najah Yusuf
by Giles Richards, The Guardian
Thu 28 Mar 2019

Amnesty International’s Middle East director of campaigns, Samah Hadid, said: “Beneath the glamour of F1, there is a far more sinister side to Bahrain, revealing the country as a deeply repressive state where anyone critical of the government can be jailed merely for posting a tweet.”

Rajab was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for tweeting about the alleged mistreatment and torture of inmates at Jaw prison. Amnesty added the regime had “embarked on a systematic campaign to eliminate organised political opposition”.

On Wednesday the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven called on F1 to make good on its promise to hold an investigation into Yusuf’s case by visiting her in prison. F1 stated it was not going to do so but that it would continue to take action privately, noting that it believed it would be “unhelpful to comment further publicly”.

The Bahrain government maintains Yusuf was jailed for “promoting and encouraging people to overthrow the political and social systems” and has said “the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to peaceful assembly are protected by Bahrain’s constitution”.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at Bird, which is based in London, insisted that was not enough. “In our experience the private channel alone has never brought any substantial results,” he said. “The Bahraini government only responds to public pressure, therefore F1 must use its full leverage to secure Najah’s release, including visiting her in Isa Town prison.”

At the Sakhir circuit itself on Thursday, Lewis Hamilton expressed his concerns about racism in sport. The five-times world champion has already been scathing about the abuse some England football players were subjected to when playing Montenegro at the start of the week, posting after the match: “What you faced with the chants was despicable. Completely unacceptable no room for this behaviour in any sport.”

“Racism is still an issue, which is sad to see. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to be migrating much over the next years. It’s great to see people standing by in support. But it doesn’t look like it’s something that’s going to particularly change for a long time.”

The 34-year-old, who is attempting to win his sixth world championship this season and is F1’s first and only black driver, believed the issue had to be taken more seriously. “People just need to stand up for it more,” he said. “I remember being at school and when I was younger and you kind of get a slap on the hand for it and things are kind of let slide. I don’t think that should happen anywhere. Action should be taken and people should be a lot stricter with it.”

The race? How can you bear to watch it?

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