Perhaps Bahrain April 22
was a first. Imagine a sporting event featuring state-sponsored terror
and blood in the streets.
Imagine one with race drivers and event organizers mindless of raging
crimes against humanity nearby.
Hollywood script writers wouldn't touch it. Producers wouldn't let them.
The atmosphere was surreal. Attendance was sparse. A normally full grandstand
was half empty. It's a wonder anyone came.
Observers said more security forces than spectators showed up. Most
teams, drivers, mechanics, engineers, and other personnel preferred
to stay home. Nonetheless, they came.
Formula 1's reputation was tarnished. Instead of pulling out, it went
ahead anyway. Although favorite Sebastian Vettel took the checkered
flag, no one won the contest. It was more travesty than sporting event.
The Al Khalifa monarchy's media strategy backfired. Instead of burnishing
Bahrain's image, journalists focused more on rage against injustice,
blood in the streets, police state violence, security forces and armored
vehicles surrounding the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC), and clouds
of black smoke rising nearby.
Even though the heavily guarded venue let the race come off without
incident, Bahraini protesters won on Sunday. Millions watched worldwide.
Social media spread the word.
So did journalists courageous enough to explain. Even The New York Times
got some of it right. It quoted activists saying they were protesting
for democratic change.
It mentioned human rights leader Abdulhadi Alkhawaja's "hunger strike
for over two months." It's now two and a half months and counting, but
how much longer can he hold on?
It also reported protest leader Salah Abbas Habib's death by "gunshot
wounds" without mentioning his name. It cited opposition groups blaming
police. It explained that "antigovernment protesters have been demonstrating
for democratic reforms" since other "revolts erupted across" the region
The Washington Post, however, relied solely on an April 22 AP largely
puff piece. It focused mostly on the event. It said "Bahrain got exactly
the type of incident-free Formula One race it wanted...."
Perhaps inside, but not on bloodstained streets where the real action
took place the way it's done for months.
A London Independent article headlined, "Bahrain GP limps across finish
line as lockdown wins the day," saying:
Normalcy was nowhere in sight. Activist Alaa Shehabi said:
"There are armored vehicles at the entrance to every village. If anyone
emerges now they will just be shot at. The government has sent a very
After speaking to the Independent, Shehabi was arrested and detained.
Inside the BIC, organizers and participants expressed relief at day's
end without incident. For sure, they want to leave and head home. Some
may wish they hadn't come. Who wants to race in a war zone?
London Guardian writer Ian Black headlined, "Bahrain Grand Prix fails
to drown out angry protests," saying:
Though unable to disrupt the race, protesters "claimed a moral victory
against their government in their campaign to focus attention on tensions
and repression in the Gulf state...."
Black explained heavy security, armored vehicles, police attacking protesters,
tear gas, rubber bullets, thick black smoke clouds, curfews, and overall
conditions unfit to live in let alone race.
"A Bahraini photographer reported that police had threatened to smash
his camera for taking pictures of them chasing protesters."
Black quoted Brookings Doha Centre analyst Shadi Hamid saying:
"For Bahrain's regime, the F1 race was a massive, almost embarrassing,
failure. For the opposition, it was a godsend."
He cited real grievances gone unaddressed. He quoted independent al-Wasat
Bahraini journalist, Mansoor al-Jamri, saying he's "amazed by the (regime's)
state of denial."
He reported an activist's tweet, saying the "race is over but the Bahrain
On April 23, the Guardian's Josh Halliday said UK Channel 4 News journalists,
including foreign affairs correspondent Johathan Miller, were "deported
from Bahrain" after being arrested for filming a demonstration.
Denied visas, they came without accreditation. So did other foreign
journalists. Authorities tried keeping all unwanted ones out. Some dared
come anyway. Those caught were roughed up, detained, and deported.
Miller said police "aggressive and violently attacked the group's driver."
Channel 4 aired him saying:
He and his crew "were caught filming a planned demonstration in one
of the Shia villages...." Police confronted them. "(T)hey have not been
particularly pleasant. They've been very aggressive towards me, my crew
and driver and Dr Ala'a Shehabi, a prominent human rights activist."
Authorities seized their cameras and computers, wouldn't return them,
and "initially refused permission to board a flight" home. Finally they
State Terror Took the Checkered Flag on Sunday
Security forces escalated violence. Protesters, activists, and journalists
were targeted. Tear gas, rubber bullets, shotguns, stun grenades, and
baton beatings were used. Arrests, torture and other abuse followed.
Another death was reported from tear gas inhalation. Some believe it's
A Sanad village resident known as Sabeer was found dead in his room.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) said he's the 79th confirmed
death since protests erupted in mid-February 2011.
On Sunday, at least eight Bahraini women with tickets showed up at the
BIC. Unarmed, they began protesting peacefully. Police beat and arrested
Nazeeha Saeed, a previous torture victim, tweeted that "torturer officer
Sara Al Moosa is on duty in BIC protecting the race."
Others expressed concern about the arrested women taken to the same
Naziha police station where detainees are tortured. Parents were denied
permission to see their daughters.
Throughout the weekend, Manama's Pearl Roundabout (scene of numerous
protests) was surrounded and heavily protected. Protesters were heading
there. It's a symbol of freedom and democratic change.
No one was allowed near it. Security forces used tear gas, rubber bullets,
stun grenades and shotguns.
On April 21, Alkhawaja's daughter, Zainab, was arrested for the second
time. She was peacefully protesting her father's detention and condition.
She's currently detained in jail. Her sister, Maryam, BCHR's foreign
affairs head, said:
"I can guess (she's held) because nobody really believes in the legal
system." Police states have none. "Zainab's mentality is you can only
bring about the fall of the regime when you stop treating it like a
government." It mocks a legitimate one. So do many other regional police
On April 21, activist Mohammed Hassan was arrested with London Telegraph
journalist Colin Freeman. He was struck with a gun barrel and beaten.
He required hospitalization. Detained for about 24 hours, he's now released.
On April 22, activists Alaa Shehabi and Ali Aali were accompanying journalists
when accosted by police and arrested. Aali said they were insulted and
humiliated. Shehabi is an economist, lecturer, writer, activist, and
research head of BRAVO human rights organizations, as well as co-founder
of Bahrain Watch.
On Saturday, Danish journalist Rasmus Tantholdt was denied entry at
Manama airport for the second time in 24 hours. Two weeks ago, he managed
to get in to report on Alkhawaja. On Sunday, two Japanese journalists
were arrested and detained.
Police accosted German photojournalist Mazen Mahdi while covering Belad
Al Qadeem village protests. He was threatened and told his camera would
be broken if he didn't leave. He explained saying, the "threat (was)
made by what appear(ed) to be an officer masking his face and rank."
On April 23, a media blackout remains in place. Journalists caught violating
it are targeted. In the run-up to Sunday's race and the day after, it
didn't work. The word got out and spread worldwide.
Millions paying attention know more about state terror than Grand Prix
racing. They also understand why Bahrainis risk so much to end it. Given
their courage to live free, it's better than even money they will one
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
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