This article by John Lubbock and Nabeel Rajab was originally posted on 30 January by The Guardian, but it was soon withdrawn because of the threat of legal action from a firm representing the Bahrain International Circuit.
The piece has re-appeared, with a paragraph at the bottom detailing the legal complaint from the BIC:
The Bahrain International Circuit (BIC), a palm-lined, glitzy race track in the middle of the desert, is due to host Formula One in April. Behind the facade, however, lie tales of misery, blood and torture.
Last year, the head of security at the BIC raided its offices alongside plainclothed police with a list. The list contained the names of every Shia employee. One by one they were dragged from their desks and beaten in front of colleagues [see footnote]. In total, 27 were arrested, and many were left in jail for months. The BIC is responsible for purging its own people. It is hardly a place that deserves to host this race again.
The repression that occurred at the BIC is a microcosm of the broader government crackdown. The result has been entrenchment of an apartheid system in which the indigenous population are marginalised and feel like second-class citizens.
The fact that the marginalised majority are mostly Shias is frequently overplayed by international journalists seeking an easy explanation for the crisis. It plays into fears of sectarianism, and helps the Bahraini regime's divide-and-rule policy that was exposed by Salah Albandar, a British adviser to the government, in 2006.
But it is more complicated than that. Sunni anti-government leaders like Ibrahim Sharif were also jailed because they threatened to unite the Sunni and Shia reformists who chanted the slogan: "No Sunni, no Shia, just Bahraini."
While preaching support for democratic transition, the US and UK have remained silent towards the Bahraini regime.
The first anniversary of the start of the peaceful uprising is on 14 February and is likely to be marked by big protests. The US has issued a travel warning to this effect and moved some embassy staff. Reporters Without Borders has just named Bahrain one of the world's top 10 most repressive regimes, while Freedom House downgraded Bahrain from "partly free" to "not free".
Despite this, the UK is back to business exporting arms to Bahrain. It is simply shocking that Britain and the US continue to support such a repressive regime and that Formula One is even considering holding the Bahrain race at the current time.
The credit rating agency Standard & Poor's has just issued a statement on Bahrain's economy saying that "the dynamics of Bahrain's internal political conflict remain unchanged, with entrenched polarisation indicating prolonged tensions".
Evidence suggests that the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report on human rights abuses, published in November, had no effect on the continuing political repression. There has been an increase in the number of people killed by tear gas and, more seriously, two men appear to have died in police custody on 25 January --- one of them with bootmarks on his head.
Yet for some reason, the FIA, Formula One's governing body, has not got the message. It sent Damon Hill, who last year opposed holding the race, to Bahrain, where he claims to have talked to different groups and reached the conclusion that "a lot has changed there since [last year] … I believe they are making change for the better". It is likely that he only met people the government wanted him to talk to, because nobody in the human rights community knew of his visit until after he had left. He certainly never met any of the staff at the racetrack who were tortured on its premises by the chief of security [see footnote].
Other sacked workers were offered their jobs back in a PR display to emphasise the commitment to reform, only for journalists to uncover that they were offered unfair contracts and required to drop cases of unfair dismissal.
The Formula One race is an important part of Bahrain's PR tactics, promoting the state as a modern, liberal bastion in the Middle East. The economy relies on such overt symbols of liberalism, with thousands of Saudis coming for the weekend to enjoy the relaxed drinking laws.
Meanwhile, real political liberalism is a long way off. The Formula One race provides a perfect example of how a polished PR image hides a reality of human rights violations, political repression, torture and corruption. This instability troubles Britain and the US and is why they encouraged Bahrain to appoint the BICI to investigate claims of abuse. However, they are not willing to use their influence – largely due to Saudi pressure linked to oil supplies – to make Bahrain implement more than cosmetic reforms.
Now, even the head of the BICI believes there has been a whitewash. It is therefore up to the court of public opinion to censure Bahrain for its lack of commitment to human rights and pressure Formula One to cancel the race until real reform takes place. Last year an Avaaz.org petition helped to persuade Formula One teams not to race in Bahrain, and it is running another petition this year.
Bahrainis who continue to suffer would be betrayed by holding such an important event while villages suffocate in teargas, and human rights defenders and other prisoners of conscience languish in jail. They know they cannot rely on the solidarity of governments, who have sold them out too often. But maybe we can harness the power of social media and international public opinion to achieve changes that governments are unwilling or unable to. The Bahraini regime does not deserve to bask in the magnanimity of hosting prestige events that seek to burnish its tarnished reputation.
• This footnote was added on 16 February 2012:
In its letter of complaint, the BIC makes the following points: while the BIC accepts that in April 2012 [sic: April 2011] the police took some of its employees to the police station for interrogation, it denies the allegation that its security staff were involved in any repressive activities, or that its staff tortured, beat or mistreated BIC employees on BIC premises. The BIC says that if any of its employees were beaten or otherwise badly treated by BIC security staff – which it denies – it would have been without BIC's knowledge, instructions or orders.