The leader of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights has given his assurances no-one within Formula One will be harmed this weekend.
Nabeel Rajab was speaking as he conducted the latest pro-democracy and anti-Formula One protest in a suburb of capital Manama ahead of this weekend’s controversial grand prix.
With riot police yards away carrying shields, batons and teargas guns, Rajab expressed his anger at the FIA and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone over their decision to push ahead with the race.
The FIA’s primary concern, however, has always been with regard to safety, with motorsport’s world governing body on Saturday declaring their satisfaction that “all proper security measures are in place”.
There have always been fears, though, a dissident group such as the Coalition of the Youth of the Feb 14 Revolution, who have declared ’three days of anger’ this weekend, would use F1 as a platform to further their cause.
With chants of ’Down, down Hamad’ (the ruling king) serving as a backdrop, Rajab said: “Nobody will hurt them. No group in Bahrain will ever harm you guys.
“Foreigners are respected amongst our people, especially western journalists because through you we can speak to the outside world.
“Nobody will harm anybody, no-one in a Formula One team, nobody.
“Yes, they are angry at the sport, but it’s not personal, it’s about politics.”
Although Ecclestone has long insisted the sport has no place in any country’s politics, the suggestion on this occasion is that it is playing a pivotal role.
Racing under the slogan ’UniF1ed – One Nation In Celebration’, when it is clear the kingdom is anything but unified given the daily demonstrations that occur, is using F1 as a political tool.
Rajab added: “We’re protesting to show anger at Formula One for conducting the race here.
“Formula One here is known to be the sport of the repressive dictators. Why is Formula One helping them?
“Formula One is the sport of the ruling family, the sport of the crown prince, the sport of the son of the king who brought it here.
“People see Formula One as representing these dictators, and it is not good, not even for Formula One.
“And people are angry because the ruling elite have been isolated internationally.
“With Formula One they are making a PR campaign to get the Bahrain government out of this isolation.
“The ruling regimen should be punished and not rewarded with Formula One.”
Rajab remains hopeful the race will still be cancelled, but that is unlikely to occur, despite a cross-party campaign launched in Parliament today urging it be called off.
The early-day motion, so far signed by five MPs, reads: “This House is astonished the Bahrain Formula One race is going ahead despite huge concerns over abuse of human rights expressed by Amnesty International and others.
“It notes a trial is continuing of 52 medical professionals who tried to help victims of the suppression of protests.
“It believes the Formula One race will be used by the Bahrain government as an endorsement of its policies of suppression of dissent, and it accordingly calls for its cancellation.”
Underlining the point, Rajab said: “We hope and wish it does not happen. We think Formula One is giving the repressive dictators a way out.”
The one positive for Rajab and the group of 200 protesters who gathered in Bab Al Bahrain was the presence of around a dozen members of the F1 media.
For an hour, at the crossroads of a shopping district, there was a stand-off between the demonstrators and the riot police who exercised a degree of patience seemingly not witnessed before.
We were informed ordinarily the protest would have been quashed, with tear gas the weapon of choice, long before sound bombs were eventually deployed to break up the gathering.
It is understood there were no casualties on this occasion, other than one woman who was maced and another struck by a sound bomb.
“The police would have beaten all of us by now and put us all in jail,” said Rajab.
“It’s positive now you are here, otherwise those guys would not respect us for a second.
“We would have been attacked by sound bombs, tear gas and rubber bullets. This is the culture they have.
“None of them (the police) are from here. They are all brought in as mercenaries from Pakistan, Jordan, Syria. None of these people are local people.
“They have been brought in from the outside to take part in the crackdown, to kill people, to repress people, to torture people.”