A pro-democracy activist today unfurled a protest banner containing images of imprisoned hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja from the roof of the Bahraini Embassy in London, calling for Formula One motor racing bosses to call off the Bahrain Grand Prix, as a new report confirmed that the regime has failed to meet commitments to reform.
Over the weekend, security forces used birdshot and live fire against peaceful demonstrators (above), said the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, while the island’s security forces detained two U.S.-based rights activists on Sunday along with 20 Bahraini citizens protesting ahead of next weekend’s race.
The Grand Prix coincides with growing tensions heighten over the health of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a jailed civil society activist on hunger strike who rights groups fear is close to death.
“Despite the authorities’ claims to the contrary, state violence against those who oppose the Al Khalifa family rule continues, and in practice, not much has changed in the country since the brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in February and March 2011,” according to a new report from Amnesty International.
The authorities declared an intention to introduce reforms and learn lessons from the pro-democracy protests in February and March 2011, following the November 2011 report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, established by King Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa, to investigate human rights violations.
The formation of BICI “was a real breakthrough and raised expectations that things would be different,” says the Amnesty report:
Yet, nearly five months later, real change has not materialized. People are still waiting for the significant changes that would demonstrate the political will to reform. The piecemeal nature of the reforms and the persistence of some of the same violations documented in the BICI report are casting a shadow over the whole process, and raises doubts over the authorities’ political will to reform.
The “Revolution of February 14″ youth activist group has called for “three days of rage” from April 20 to 22 to protest the decision to proceed with the Bahrain Grand Prix, but the leader of the largest opposition party said it would not launch direct actions to stop the race.
Al-Wefaq leader Abdel Jalil Khalil told AFP the opposition coalition would not try to sabotage the race but instead organize protests to “take advantage of this week’s race to highlight our political and democratic demands.”
The decision to go ahead with the race “gives Bahrain’s rulers the opportunity they are seeking to obscure the seriousness of the country’s human rights situation,” said Human Rights Watch.
“Formula 1 promoters say their decision to race in Bahrain should not be derailed by political considerations, but the ruling family will attempt to portray (the) decision as a political statement of support for its repressive policies,” said Tom Porteious, the group’s deputy program director.
His Human Rights Watch colleagues, Washington Director Tom Malinowski and Nadim Houry, the deputy director of the group’s Middle East and North Africa division, were briefly detained over the weekend.
After his release, Malinowski told The Cable in an e-mail that police used tear gas, noise grenades, and pepper spray to dispersed the non-violent demonstration he was observing before being detained.
“This is a nightly happening all over Bahrain now. The unresolved political tensions are being manifested on the streets, with increasing anger on both sides. The only solution is to give people a peaceful outlet for expressing their opposition to the government and, more important, a process that will address their legitimate political grievances,” he said.
The authorities are cracking down on opposition activists ahead of the race, says Nabeel Rajab, president, Bahrain Center for Human Rights, who criticized race organizers.
“They have put profits and their interests before human rights. The situation [in Bahrain] has worsened. The number of people who were killed from the beginning of the year till now is more than people killed last year,” he told The Media Line. If the race goes as planned, it will earn an image as the “sport of dictators.”