In Bahrain, Grand Prix Revs Up Amid Protests

Bahrain F1 Grand Prix

  • 2012: 4th of 20 Formula One races in Sakhir
  • 2011: Race was canceled because of protests.
  • Apr. 22, 2010: Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain was held.
  • 2004: First Formula One race was held in Middle East.

This year’s Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix has officially started despite anti-government protests and vows that "three days of rage" would coincide with the entire weekend of race-related events.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesters as escalating violence in the Persian Gulf kingdom forced officials to tighten security ahead of Friday’s practice sessions. Some protesters vowed to take their demonstrations to the race site.

On Wednesday, two members of the Force India team left Bahrain after firebombs landed near their rental car.

The Bahrain International Circuit later confirmed the team’s vehicle had not been targeted directly, but was caught in an altercation between police and protesters on a local highway.

The decision by Formula One bosses to hold the Grand Prix in the troubled country has been met with much controversy.

The event was cancelled last year after anti-government demonstrations turned deadly.

Bahrain Unrest Map


In a statement released last week, Amnesty International said the situation in Bahrain has not improved since 2011. Amnesty researcher Said Boumedouha says this is the message protesters are trying to amplify.

“They basically want the international community to know that the majority of the population in Bahrain is still determined to protest against the government because they have been calling for meaningful political reforms, but the government has failed to introduce such reforms," he said.

Held under the slogan "UniF1ed," many Bahrainis believe the Grand Prix could help unite the country, while others see it as legitimizing the government’s continued crackdown on opposition protesters.

A former employee of the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) who says he was tortured at the race venue last May, says he feels betrayed by Formula One’s return, as nothing has been done to bring his attackers to justice.

"They started beating us and kicking us and dragging us, and most of us were bleeding at that time," said the man, who asked to remain anonymous due to concerns about his personal safety.

He and 28 of his colleagues, he added, all Shi’ite Muslims, were arrested at the circuit in Sakhir and tortured in backrooms before being taken to prison where they were further abused.

Another former BIC employee insists he avoided political demonstrations last year but was arrested and tortured at the circuit anyway. Also requesting anonymity, he said he has mixed feelings about the Grand Prix.

"Part of me says, 'let it go to Bahrain this year, maybe next year things will be better,'" he said. "The other side of me says, 'no, Bahrain doesn’t deserve this good reputation.' The fact that the torture had been on the premises of BIC: the place is ugly, it’s tarnished, and if I look at it purely from a personal point of view, yes, I feel bitter about it, and I don’t want it to happen."

Bahraini Shi’ites say they are treated like second-class citizens by the nation’s ruling Sunni minority and began protesting for more rights last February. A deadly government crackdown ensued.

In recent months, violent street battles between opposition supporters and security forces have intensified.

The main opposition party al-Wefaq, which has been holding a week of demonstrations in the run-up to the official Grand Prix race on Sunday, has promoted peaceful protests. However, many youths frustrated by the slow pace of reform have been resorting to more violent tactics.

The Grand Prix is the biggest sporting event in Bahrain and costs an estimated $40 million to stage.

Only small crowds were seen in the grandstand for Friday's practice.

Join the conversation on our social journalism site -
Middle East Voices
. Follow our Middle East reports on
Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Ricardo
April 20, 2012 10:05 AM
looks like this was no small protest

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs