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Human Rights Groups Urge F1 to Act over Jailed Bahraini Activist Najah Yousif

2019-03-30 - 6:20 p

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): The Guardian newspaper reported that small-scale protests against the Bahrain Grand Prix are expected across the country this weekend, according to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), with the mass demonstrations that characterized the 2011 and 2012 meetings not likely to be repeated due to the climate of fear and crackdowns that now precede Formula One races in Bahrain.

The institute was one of 15 human rights groups that sent a letter to the FIA president, Jean Todt, and F1 management on Wednesday calling on it to act in the case of the Bahraini activist Najah Yousif, who has been imprisoned since last year after posting criticism of the grand prix and the regime on Facebook.

On Thursday Amnesty International also highlighted the fate of another jailed activist in Bahrain, Nabeel Rajab, who was arrested in 2015. That year his son, Adam, told the Guardian how the crackdowns occurred around race weekends. "If you go to the villages you will see them surrounded by police," he said. "Any gathering of six or seven people chanting will be attacked with tear gas or Kevlar bullets or birdshot; the government are not allowing any protests to happen there."

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."

Amnesty added the regime had "embarked on a systematic campaign to eliminate organized 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 Al-Wadaei, 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."

In 2011 the race was cancelled after mass protests while in 2012 it went ahead despite large-scale opposition. However, a Bird spokesperson believed the fear of imprisonment means that will not be the case on this occasion.

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