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By Sara Yasin / 12 April 2012
This letter was originally published in today’s issue of The Financial Times.
Sir, As you report, there is opposition from within Bahrain to the Formula One motor race going ahead as scheduled at the end of next week (“Bahrain youth group targets Grand Prix”, April 9). From outside Bahrain, we would agree that the political, security and human rights context in Bahrain today all militate against this high-profile, profitable business and sporting event going ahead in a “business as usual” way: political freedoms deserve the support of business too.
As has been shown time and again in the multifarious protests of the Arab Spring in the past 17 months, people across the Arab world want political freedom – including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly – as well as economic opportunities and growth. This is a combination international businesses should find it in their own interests to support.
Bahrain, though, continues to turn away from reform and support of basic rights towards repression. Bahrain opposition leader Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is in critical condition, having spent more than 60 days on hunger strike in protest at his detention.
Despite repeated calls for his release from international rights organisations and a statement from UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, the Bahraini government has refused to release him to Denmark, where he is a citizen.
Despite this, the Bahraini government wants to bask in the positive international publicity it anticipates receiving through the Formula One motor race going ahead. Yet all the signs are that the government is likely to intensify its harsh clampdown on local activists before and during the Grand Prix, with these and other so-called “security measures” risking endangering human rights activists, racegoers and Formula One team members alike.
Until the government of Bahrain shows a real commitment to reforms promised in the Bahrain Independent Commission for Inquiry report last November and respects the fundamental human rights of its own citizens, international events such as the Bahrain Grand Prix should not proceed.
Kirsty Hughes, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship
The next issue of Index on Censorship magazine What’s the Taboo?: Why breaking down social barriers matters, explores worldwide taboos in all their guises, and why they matter. With articles from Shazia Mirza and David Baddiel, Alastair Campbell and a special section of cartoonists from around the world.