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Friday, June 3, 2011

Open Letter to Jean Todt and the FIA

To Jean Todt, President, and Members of the FIA,

Today is a momentuous day for World Motorsport.  Today is a day when the governing body of motorsport can take a stand against inoperable and archaic Government systems which repress and assault their own citizens in order to maintain an unequal and unfair society where a person can be discriminated against on the basis of their Religious beliefs.  Today you must make a decision as to whether or not to hold a Formula one race in Bahrain.

Before you sit down to consider this matter I would like you all to take some time to think about what is currently happening in Bahrain.  Let's take a look at what those with information about the region have said.

Christopher Stokes, General Director of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) writes:

"In the kingdom of Bahrain, to be wounded by security forces has become a reason for arrest and providing healthcare has become grounds for a jail sentence. During the current civil unrest, Bahraini health facilities have consistently been used as a tool in the military crackdown, backed by the Gulf Cooperation Council, against protestors.

The muted response from key allies outside of the region such as the U.S. – which has significant ties to Bahrain, including a vast naval base in the country – can only be interpreted as acceptance of the ongoing military assault on the ability to provide and receive impartial healthcare.

While the government and its supporters in Bahrain continue to refer to the protestors as ‘rioters’, ‘criminals, ‘extremists’, ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’, the label that remains conspicuously absent for those who are wounded is ‘patient’.

Torture and beatings

Since 7th April, when Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders (MSF) first raised the alarm about the situation, our team has seen patients in villages across the country who were severely beaten or tortured in jail; schoolgirls who have been both physically abused and threatened with rape; and patients in urgent need of hospitalisation who still refuse to be referred due to the high risk of their arrest.

The militarisation of the only public hospital, Salmaniya, persists. Although Ministry of Health statistics show an increase in patients accessing the hospital, tanks and security checkpoints are still manned by masked soldiers at its entrances, searching cars and people.

The wounded tell MSF that they are still too afraid to go to the hospital in case of being arrested or beaten in the wards.

Medical staff arrested

Doctors and nurses also continue to be arrested during raids on health facilities, or on their homes at night. In fact, 47 medical staff are now being prosecuted by the Bahraini authorities.

Within Bahrain, the medical community itself is polarised. Many oppose the blatant militarisation of medical assistance, while others support the military presence in the hospital and the legal charges against fellow health workers. However, the impact on the patients is often disregarded.

By dragging the health system deeper into the political crackdown on dissent, Bahraini authorities continue to undermine patient’s trust in health facilities.

Wounded arrested

All of the 88 people that MSF has managed to see in their homes are at risk of being arrested if they were to present themselves at health facilities – simply for being wounded in protests by government forces. Some of them need to go to hospitals for surgery or x-rays – but MSF is unable to safely refer them.

This is because hospitals in Bahrain have received directives that any patient who presents with wounds associated with the current unrest must be reported to the police by health staff.

While there is a legal provision to report trauma cases to judicial authorities in many countries, this is designed to assist and protect victims of violence. However, in Bahrain today, the reality is that hospitals are being used to catch and imprison wounded people.


Our medical teams then face the impossible choice of knowing that patients who need medical attention risk arrest and a serious deterioration of their health condition in prison.

MSF has seen the results of violence and torture perpetrated against those imprisoned, caused by beatings with iron rods, boots, hoses and cattle prods on the back, legs, buttocks, genitals and soles of the feet.
MSF has also seen the serious impact of psychological abuse on those arrested, including extreme anxiety and fear as a result of sexual harassment and humiliation.

Humanitarian law

Ensuring the safe and impartial provision of treatment for the wounded is a basic legal obligation under humanitarian law. It is entailed in mandatory provisions of Common Article 3 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions – and is valid at all times.

Thus, as a state party to these Conventions, the Bahraini authorities must respect its obligations regarding the protection and provision of health care to the sick, injured and prisoners.
This healthcare should be provided by the high quality Bahraini health system, without precluding the offer of medical services by an impartial humanitarian organisation such as MSF.

MSF assistance blocked

Although we now have authorisation to begin training Bahraini health workers to deal with psychological trauma, other crucial assistance remains blocked.
Our requests to set up a referral system, whereby MSF can accompany wounded patients to health facilities to ensure they receive lifesaving care, are still met with insufficient guarantees about their safety.

The national security agenda of Bahraini authorities must not come at the expense of the lives and health of wounded people, whether in hospital or prison. Doctors and nurses must be allowed to provide healthcare in line with medical ethics, without the fear of reprisal.
This is impossible when health facilities are used as bait for arrest and torture, with the support of Bahrain’s closest allies".

Reuters write:

"Police patrolled Manama and villages near the capital to snuff out any protests before the meeting of the world motor racing body and fired tear gas to try to break up a protest by some 500 people shouting "Down with (King) Hamad" and "Gulf forces out" in the village of Sanabis on Friday.

The protest began after the funeral of Zainab Ali Altajer, who demonstrators said died from the effect of a sound bomb during disturbances the day before.

Military trials of 21 mostly Shi'ite dissidents continue. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has offered new dialogue on reform with all sides, without spelling out its parameters.

The court sentenced six men on Thursday to jail terms ranging from one to five years in prison for rioting and gathering illegally in public with intent to cause disturbance -- a reference to the protests -- the state news agency said.

An employee of the state-owned Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) which hosts the Grand Prix told Reuters 28 of 108 staff members had been fired. He said all 28 were detained and abused, and five remain in detention, including chief financial officer Jaafar Almansoor.

He said all the detainees were Shi'ite and many had taken part in or expressed support for the protest movement. The government has purged hundreds of Shi'ites from state jobs. It is not clear how many were arrested in total or remain in jail.

A BIC spokesman did not reply to telephone calls.

Britain lifted a travel advisory this week but expressed concern over rights abuse.
"We remain deeply concerned by reports of human rights abuses, including the recent arrests of protesters and medical staff and the nature of the charges brought against them," Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said on Wednesday".
(Reporting by Andrew Hammond and Hamad Mohammed; Editing by Jon Hemming)

A lead editorial ten days ago in the Times  highlighted the active campaign being waged by Bahrain to get the grand prix reinstated. It concluded: "It must not succeed. The roar of petrol engines around the tiny kingdom, smothered with advertising, would be too great a symbol that Western acquiescence to repression can be bought with stability and an oil industry."

ABC News has written:

"Bahrain has lifted martial law after months of pro-democracy protests in what the government hopes will be a sign of the country returning to normal.
Bahrain is also looking to get back their leg of the Formula One Grand Prix, which was cancelled in February when protesters, inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, clashed with police.
A meeting of F1's governing body on Friday could reinstate the race, but a human rights watch group based in the United States says Bahrain's ongoing crackdown on opposition activists should count in the decision.
According to online activists, there is still a heavy anti-riot police presence in Shiite villages on the outskirts of the capital, Manama.
Al Jazeera television quoted witnesses saying police used tear gas to disperse protesters, arresting several and injuring dozens more.
Ali Zirazdi, 30, says police fired tear gas at hundreds of people gathered in the Shiite village of Diraz.
"With the end of the emergency situation, the security should not be here but they still are," he said.
The interior ministry later denied troops had opened fire on demonstrators".

Max Mosely, your former president talked to ESPN and said:

"If I was president today, Formula One would go to Bahrain over my dead body," Mosley said. "It cannot happen."
He also warned that if it is rearranged for later this year, then pressure on sponsors may mean many will want their logos removed from cars for the race.
"The grand prix will be used to paint a picture of Bahrain that will be false," he said. "They will be attempting to use the grand prix to support what they are doing, almost using Formula One as an instrument of repression.
"There is only one reason Formula One is in Bahrain and that is a political reason. To go will be a public-relations disaster and sponsors will want their liveries removed."

Amnesty International Reported:

Human rights conditions in Bahrain have undergone a marked deterioration in recent weeks. This was clear and palpable during Amnesty International’s most recent fact-finding visit, following an earlier visit in February. The government’s resort to renewed excessive force to suppress the protests, its declaration of the State of National Safety and the extraordinary powers that contains, and the application of those powers to arrest and detain incommunicado hundreds of mainly Shi’a protestors and political activists has exacerbated tension between the Sunni and Shi’a Muslim communities and cast Bahrain on a very worrying downward trajectory.

There is an urgent need now, therefore, for the Bahraini government to reverse this trend and give renewed and greater priority to its obligations under international law. It must not fail that test.

At the same time, much more and more determined action is needed from governments in North America and Europe that have long maintained close diplomatic, trade and other ties with the Kingdom and which have been much more vocal in espousing the cause of human rights during the current turmoil in Libya and during the recent protests in Tunisia and Egypt than they have in relation to Bahrain. For many in the Arab world, this appears as another example of political selectivity when it comes to the advancement of human rights by such
states; they must act, and act quickly, to disperse this perception but principally to remind the Bahraini authorities of their obligations to uphold and respect human rights, including the right to peaceful protest, and to ensure accountability for unlawful killings, torture and other human rights violations committed by their forces or the forces of the other states currently assisting them.
In an open letter to Bernie Ecclestone, published as part of a Facebook campaign, the 'Youth of the 14 February Revolution' wrote:

"We are addressing to you this open letter publicly regarding the organization of Bahrain Grand Prix, and we, citizen of Bahrain, and human rights supporters of the world, are asking you to consider the challenges to organize what should be a happy sporting event in the middle of a country under siege and martial law, surrounded by tanks and military forces, while the population is being reduce to silence, killed, tortured, etc...
"Not mentioning the difficult climatic conditions, and the fact that organizing a motor sport festival in the middle of a despotic crackdown on the population, wouldn't be well understood and accepted worldwide.
"Also, in support of the population of Bahrain, we're asking you reconsider hosting Grand Prix of Bahrain until basic human rights and freedom are restored, and, if you wish, to issue a letter stating that the Grand Prix cannot, and will not, be organized in Bahrain until basic human rights and freedom are restored, and the repression is over. With your permission, we will display this letter of support on Facebook and other networks to show the solidarity of the Formula 1 sporting industry with the democratic and freedom aspirations of the Bahraini people!
"We thank you very much for your support and wish to see the Grand Prix in Bahrain soon, in a free and democratic atmosphere to which you would have contributed."
For myself let me just say that Bernie has repeatedly made the point that F1 is apolitical and should not get involved but Bahrain wants Formula 1 for purely political reasons - the same political reasons that South Africa wanted Cricket and Rugby in the 1970's - to give public and global credibility to an reppressive regime desperate to hold onto power using any means necessary.
At 11.33am today (20 minutes ago), as you are sitting there thinking, Associated Press have reported:
11.33am: Associated Press reporting that Bahraini police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters marching toward Pearl Square in the country's capital.
The downtown square was the epicenter of weeks of Shiite-led protests against Sunni rulers earlier this year in the Gulf kingdom.
Friday's march in Manama comes two days after authorities lifted emergency rule. It was imposed in March to quell demonstrations by Bahrain's Shiite majority demanding greater freedoms and inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.
At least 30 people have died since February, when protests erupted in the tiny island nation, which hosts the US Navy's 5th Fleet.
There were no immediate reports of injuries. The eyewitnesses spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.
The only reason for Formula 1 to go to Bahrain this season is financial - you're all about cutting costs associated with the sport and last year was a bumper crop for all concerned with F1.  Take the financial hit and consider the morality of the situation - an attempt to prop up a gulf state by using MY SPORT, the fan's sport,  If we don't watch no-one gets paid.

I am watching you as you make this decision and I am not alone.  The Internet is full of opinion from fans on this issue and you would be wise to listen to their thoughts, to their voices.  Ours is the true voice of Motorsport - do not let us down.

I'll leave you with the voice of one of our own - Damon Hill -

"Formula One cannot put its head in the sand concerning the Bahrain Grand Prix because it is a very volatile situation out there and F1 is involved," he told the newspaper. "I am not a spokesman for Formula One. But I am surprised and disappointed that there is a lack of intelligent comment coming from the sport at a time when we should be trying to promote it in a positive way, a way which recognises human values.
"Formula One, its teams, its drivers and its sponsors, has to stand for values which are positive and aspirational. The ruling family in Bahrain have said they want to stage a race there, and we all do. But F1 must align itself with progression, not repression, and a lot of demonstrations in that country have been brutally repressed. You are either aware of that or you're not.
"It is clear, whatever anyone says, that some very violent events have taken place in Bahrain. It is not our country. It is their country. But we can't just fluff over it and pretend that the difficulties there don't exist, or that they will sort themselves out. It is an over-simplification to say that the rulers there are the bad guys and the demonstrators are the good guys. But we cannot pretend that the political situation there is not a factor, because it is."
"It is important that Formula One is not seen to be only interested in putting on the show, whatever the circumstances, " Hill concluded. "You can't just base your decision to hold a race in a country on that country's ability to pay."