| LONDON, April 6
LONDON, April 6 Human rights campaigners have
urged Formula One management to cancel next week's Bahrain Grand
Prix, accusing the country's rulers of using the race to
"whitewash" abuses and improve their image abroad.
Bahrain's biggest sporting event is watched by a worldwide
audience of millions and has been held since 2004, with the
exception of 2011 when violent civil unrest forced its
"Concerted and visible action is now required from Formula
One, consistent with its commitment to human rights," the groups
said in a letter to Formula One chairman Chase Carey and the two
managing directors Sean Bratches and Ross Brawn.
"We call on you to suspend this year's race in view of the
alarming situation in the country."
The letter, also addressed to the chief executive of F1
sponsor Heineken, was sent by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights,
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, Article 19 and
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain.
Activists recognised privately, after a media briefing, that
they did not expect the call to be heeded.
Bahrain, a former British protectorate and the U.S. Navy's
main outpost in the Gulf region, has stepped up a crackdown on
the opposition, banning the al-Wefaq party and arresting several
The Sunni Muslim-ruled kingdom accuses Iran, a Shi'ite
Muslim theocracy across the Gulf, of radicalising and arming
some members of its Shi'ite majority population. Three Shi'ite
men were executed in January after being convicted of killing
Formula One, criticised for holding races in countries
accused of abuses against government opponents, published a
commitment in 2015 to respect "internationally recognised human
rights in its operations globally."
Formula One is now owned by U.S.-based Liberty Media, which
took over the sport in January and ousted Bernie Ecclestone as
Ecclestone, 86, told Reuters he would be in Bahrain for the
race, the first he has attended since he ceased to run the show.
The campaigners' letter said Formula One would "become
complicit" in human rights violations in Bahrain if the race was
Activist Zainab al-Khawaja, who lives in Denmark after being
arrested and released several times in Bahrain, told reporters
that the race raised the question, "Does the world care about
what's happening in Bahrain?
"It (Formula One) is a message sent to the people of Bahrain
that the world does not care," she said.
"The government uses this event to whitewash and give a
different picture of what's happening in the country. While
people are suffering every day, they want people on the outside
to be seeing this race...and not all the images of people who
are dying and being tortured."
A spokesman for Formula One Management was not immediately
available for comment.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; editing by Mark Heinrich)